ATLANTA (AP) - The Atlanta Braves already have made 2007 a year of milestones.
Chipper Jones collected his two-thousandth career hit and became Atlanta's all-time home run leader, passing Dale Murphy. John Smoltz earned his 200th career win. Manager Bobby Cox matched the all-time record for ejections.
Jones, Smoltz and Cox would prefer the focus turned to team goals for the second half of the season, with the object a return to the playoffs. The Braves (47-42) closed a 6-4 road trip with a 5-4 win at San Diego last night to enter the All-Star break only two games behind the first-place New York Mets in the N-L East.
One year ago, the Braves were only 40-49 at the break and they missed the playoffs in a non-strike season for the first time since 1990. Cox and his team must address several issues in the second half: The Braves need to improve their play at Turner Field as they launch a 10-game homestand on Friday night against Pittsburgh. Atlanta is a solid 25-21 on the road but only 22-21 at home.
Smoltz must make a successful return from the disabled list. Also, Atlanta must have more consistent starts from the bottom of its rotation.
The Braves, who suffered a key loss when set-up reliever Mike Gonzalez suffered a season-ending elbow injury in late May, need better road results from closer Bob Wickman.
Finally, as general manager John Schuerholz considers his trade options, decisions must be made with versatile rookies Yunel Escobar, who can play third, second and shortstop, and Jarrod Saltalamacchia, who came up as a catcher but could move past Thorman as the starter at first base.