The Braves are coming off a 4-2 homestand against Houston and Los Angeles in which Smoltz closed out each of the four wins.
“When he comes into a game, they win—and it’s basically automatic,” Los Angeles outfielder Dave Roberts admitted.
In one game, Smoltz needed only four pitches to get three outs. In another, he threw nothing but fastballs to produce three straight flyouts. On Saturday, he struck out the side with 12 pitches, mixing 98-mph fastballs with 88-mph splitters and sliders.
He was, as manager Bobby Cox says, “unhittable.”
Smoltz already has a major-league leading 42 saves with nearly two months to go. Last season, his first full year as Atlanta’s closer, he set an NL record with 55 saves.
Smoltz is on pace to eclipse Bobby Thigpen’s major league record of 57 saves in a season, set 13 years ago for the Chicago White Sox. He is on pace for 61 saves.
Cox gave his closer the day off Sunday as the Braves suffered an 8-4 loss to the Dodgers.
Smoltz will certainly be ready to go Tuesday against Milwaukee. He is 1-0 with four saves and a 2.57 ERA in seven career appearances against the Brewers.
Milwaukee has lost four of its last five, including three straight to the Montreal Expos over the weekend.
The Brewers got a solo home run from Royce Clayton. but managed just one more run as they suffered a 4-2 loss to the Expos on Sunday.
Milwaukee finished its 10-game road trip with a 3-7 record.
First baseman Richie Sexson hit .441 (15-for-34) with two homers and seven RBIs on the trip.
STANDINGS: Braves - 1st place, NL East. Brewers - 6th place, 16 GB, NL Central.
BRAVES PROBABLE STARTER: Horacio Ramirez (8-4, 4.33 ERA). The left-hander will be making his first start in August after going 1-2 with a 5.11 ERA in six starts in July. The 23-year-old rookie is winless over his last four starts, including three since the All-Star break. Ramirez was charged with five runs in 5 1-3 innings of a 7-3 loss to Houston on Thursday.
BREWERS PROBABLE STARTER: Matt Kinney (7-8, 5.08 ERA). Kinney earned a 4-3 win over New York on Thursday after holding the Mets to one run and four hits in six innings. Thursday’s victory ended a five start winless streak for the right-hander.
OFFENSIVE LEADERS: Braves - Gary Sheffield, .328 avg. and 88 RBIs; Javey Lopez, 30 HRs; Rafael Furcal, 92 runs and 18 SBs. Brewers - Scott Podsednik, .302 avg. and 22 SBs.; Sexson, 29 HRs and 81 RBIs; Geoff Jenkins, Sexson and Eric Young, 66 runs.
SEASON SERIES: Braves, 2-1.
STREAKS AND NOTES: Braves - RHP Smoltz owns the record for most saves in consecutive years with 97, three more than Dennis Eckersley’s 94 with Oakland from 1991-92. … OF Sheffield is batting .333 with five homers and 18 RBIs in 18 games since the All-Star break. … SS Furcal leads the NL with eight triples. Brewers - 1B Sexson is tied for fifth in the NL with 29 HRs. … OF Podsednik is batting just .230 since the All-Star break. … RHP Kinney went 1-2 with a 7.67 ERA in six July starts.
ROAD/HOME RECORDS: Braves - 33-21 on the road; Brewers - 19-35 at home.
INJURIES: Braves - RHP Paul Byrd (elbow), 15-day DL; RHP Trey Hodges (elbow), 15-day DL. Brewers - RHP Jayson Durocher (shoulder), 15-day DL; LHP Matt Ford (elbow), 15-day DL; RHP Nick Neugebauer (shoulder), 15-day DL; RHP Ruben Quevedo (shoulder), 15-day DL; RHP Todd Ritchie (shoulder), 15-day DL; LHP Glendon Rusch (groin), 15-day DL.
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