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Braves running away with division but don’t want to relax
ATLANTA — By winning two of three against Washington to complete a successful homestand, the Atlanta Braves confirmed what already was obvious: The NL East race is over.
The Braves just can’t officially announce it.
Before the Nationals series, Atlanta won two of three against Miami and Philadelphia in its longest homestand of the season. The Braves lead second-place Washington by 15 ½ games and boast the majors’ best record.
Manager Fredi Gonzalez rested several starters in Sunday’s 2-1 win over Washington. That could be a preview of “B-team” lineups to come as he gives regulars occasional rest. But he doesn’t want his team to relax.
Atlanta, which opens a two-game series at the Mets Tuesday, still has some big questions to answer in the final six weeks of the regular season.
Left-hander Paul Maholm, who says he has recovered from a bruised left wrist, may be ready to come off the 15-day disabled list. Suddenly there will be a surplus of starting pitchers, even after the team lost staff leader Tim Hudson to a season-ending ankle injury last month.
“I feel good,” Maholm said Sunday. “I’m going to talk to them to see what they want me to do and what role they want me to come back in.”
Medlen will be skipped this week because he had to pitch in relief after every reliever was used in Saturday night’s 8-7 loss to Washington in 15 innings. Thanks to Monday’s off day, the other starters will simply move up a day.
There also is a big question at second base.
The team will have little time before the Aug. 31 trade deadline to see how Dan Uggla responds to corrective eye surgery.
General manager Frank Wren made a minor move by signing infielder Tyler Greene, who can play second base, to a minor league contract last week. Greene was assigned to Triple-A Gwinnett.
The team’s safety net at the position was Tyler Pastornicky, who promptly suffered a season-ending knee injury. Paul Janish, normally a backup shortstop, played strong defense in his first two starts at second base, but he’s hitting only .105. Rookie Phil Gosselin had two hits in his first start on Sunday.
Uggla was to accompany the team on its trip to New York. He can begin taking batting practice on Tuesday, and the next step will be a minor league rehab assignment.
Another question is centerfield as the long wait continues for B.J. Upton to find his hitting stroke.
When Jordan Schafer made back-to-back starts in centerfield against Washington, it appeared he might be entering a platoon with Upton. Gonzalez wouldn’t confirm there will be a platoon and he insisted he remained confident in Upton, who is hitting only .186 and was back in the lineup on Sunday.
Schafer is hitting .291. He leads the team with 13 stolen bases and his .383 on-base percentage is serves as a strong argument for him as a leadoff hitter.
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