PHILADELPHIA -- The Braves are coming home.
A team that made Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium, and since 1997,Turner Field, home sweet home, is barely keeping its head above waterat home this season.
Oddly enough, the Braves are a pedestrian 18-16 at home, fewer homewins than any other NL team except the Expos, Reds, Pirates and Padres.On the road, they are 25-18, the league's most road wins, and winnersof 15 of their last 18 games away from home.
"Everybody is aware of it and it's become an issue," firstbaseman Rico Brogna said. "At the same time, that's said without asense of panic."
The Braves play seven of their final 10 games before the All-Starbreak at home. They will open their final homestand tonight with thefirst of a four-game set against the Mets, followed by three gamesagainst the Phillies.
Searching for an answer to their home troubles, the Braves offerthe standard explanations.
"Every team is different," third baseman Chipper Jones said."Maybe this is a team that feels most comfortable in a hostileenvironment. We've relaxed at home and gotten our butts kicked."
Said Brogna, "I'm not saying we're complacent at home, but on theroad there's a little more bonding, guys hang out together, go out tolunch, and come out to the park a little earlier."
While the Braves' batting average at home (.263) virtually mirrorsits road average (.266), the offense hasn't produced runs asconsistently at home as on the road. In 34 home games, the Braves haveaveraged 4.03 runs per game; on the road that average shoots up to4.98.
"It's almost a little too late to say it's a coincidence," Brognasaid. "You hope to be a .500 team on the road and play well at home.We're doing it backwards."
"It's just one of those freak circumstances," pitcher Tom Glavinesaid. "We could try to explain it, but I don't know if we can."
Second baseman Quilvio Veras played two innings Wednesday with asore right ankle, then during a third-inning at-bat, while moving awayfrom a pitch in the dirt from Phils starter Randy Wolf, he suffered aslight sprain and left the game.
"I think I'm going to be OK for tomorrow," Veras said. Mark DeRosa inherited a 1 and 2 count from Veras, then hit a softsingle to right on Wolf's first pitch. DeRosa, a shortstop, playedsecond base.
Chipper Jones is a career .290 hitter in May, so when he hit .188last month with seven home runs and just 14 RBI, he raised someeyebrows. But he's put up his usual numbers this month, hitting .348with seven home runs and 21 RBI.
With 10 games remaining before the break, Jones is on pace to matchlast year's 36 home runs and 111 RBI. He had 22 home runs and 68 RBI atthe break last season; he has 21 home runs and 59 RBI now.
The headline in Wednesday's editions of the New York Post read"Rocker Rips Braves." That wasn't entirely accurate, but thecontroversial closer, traded to the Indians last week, took a shot athis ex-teammates in an interview with a pair of New York writers.
"In Atlanta, unless you're one of their golden boys like (Greg)Maddux and (John) Smoltz and Chipper (Jones) or (Tom) Glavine, you feellike a series of mess-ups might get you a ticket out of there," Rockersaid. "(But) they're really fair over here. They give everybody a fairshake."
Most of the Braves read the article, but steered away fromresponding.
"Why should I sit here and dog John Rocker?" Glavine said. "Hedoesn't deserve my response."
Rocker reverted to form when asked about receiving a fresh start inCleveland.
"What's this fresh-start bull-(bleep) I've been hearing?" hesaid. "Damn fresh (bleeping) start. Doesn't mean a (bleeping) thing tome."
Reach Bill Zack at firstname.lastname@example.org.