Atlanta (43-49) at St. Louis (52-39)

Partly Cloudy Currently: St. Louis, MO
Temp: 85° F
  • Game info: 7:05 pm EDT Mon Jul 17, 2006
  • TV: ESPN, KPLR
Preview | Box Score | Recap

The Atlanta Braves have gotten the second half of the season off to a strong start. But to keep it going, they’ll have to figure out the only team in the league playing better than them.

Jeff Weaver makes his first start for the St. Louis Cardinals as they open a three-game set with the streaking Braves Monday at Busch Stadium.

The Braves (43-49) wrapped up a three-game series sweep of the San Diego Padres with a 10-5 victory Sunday. Atlanta, which has won a season-high five straight games, hit 11 homers in the series, a record for any opponent at San Diego’s Petco Park.

Chipper Jones had three homers, including one Sunday that gave him an extra-base hit in 14 consecutive games, tying the major league record set in 1927 by Pittsburgh’s Paul Waner.

“That’s pretty cool, when you think about all the great players who’ve played this game,” said Jones, who is hitting .531 (34-for-64) with a 1.016 slugging percentage in his current 16-game hitting streak.

Jones has raised his batting average 59 points to .329 during the streak.

The Braves went just 6-21 in June, but have climbed back into the wild-card race with their recent surge. Atlanta, which has won nine of its last 11, has not won six straight since last July 26-31.

The Cardinals (52-39), meanwhile, have won seven in a row for their longest winning streak since Aug. 27-Sept. 5, 2004. St. Louis, which also struggled in June with a 9-16 record, completed a four-game sweep of the Los Angeles Dodgers with an 11-3 rout Sunday.

Rookie Chris Duncan had his second straight three-hit game, and scored all three times on hits by Albert Pujols, who went 9-for-18 with two homers— including a game-winner in Thursday’s 14-inning, 3-2 victory—and six RBIs in the series.

Weaver (NR) was designated for assignment by the Los Angeles Angels on June 30 and traded to the Cardinals five days later for a minor leaguer. He signed a one-year deal worth $8.3 million with the Angels in the offseason, but went just 3-10 with a 6.29 ERA in 16 starts for them.

Los Angeles decided to let Jeff go to make room for his younger brother, Jered, but the Cardinals opened a roster space by releasing Sidney Ponson.

Weaver went 0-3 with a 5.47 ERA in five June starts. He was pounded for six runs and nine hits in two innings in his last start on June 27 against Colorado.

“Definitely, I want to get back out there,” The 29-year-old Weaver said. “Everybody’s made the transition very comfortable and things are going well, and I’m just looking forward to a good and fresh start for the second half.”

Weaver, who has 999 career strikeouts, went 27-24 in 2004 and 2005 for the Los Angeles Dodgers and is hoping a return to the NL will get his season back on track. He has had success against the Braves, going 4-0 with a 3.19 ERA in five career starts against them.

Weaver already made his Cardinals debut, striking out as a pinch-hitter in Thursday’s extra-inning win.

Atlanta will counter with Horacio Ramirez (4-3, 4.65 ERA), who allowed seven runs and seven hits in just one-plus inning of a 10-5 loss July 7 to the Cincinnati Reds that raised his ERA more than one full run. He had allowed just four earned runs in 22 2-3 innings in his previous three starts, winning two.

Ramirez, who has been on the DL twice this season with a strained left hamstring, said he felt some tightness in his right hamstring at the end of the first inning.

“I think (Ramirez) is going to be 100 percent fine,” Braves manager Bobby Cox said. “But it had to bother the location some. He was throwing hard, really good.”

Ramirez made his only career start against the Cardinals on Aug. 10, 2003, when he allowed two runs and five hits, including two homers, in 7 2-3 innings of Atlanta’s 3-2 loss without receiving a decision.

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Starting Pitchers

H. Ramirez ChC vs. J. Weaver LAD
5-5 Record 8-14
4.48 ERA 5.76
37 K 107
31 BB 47
1.52 WHIP 1.51