7/20/2001: The Braves are in first place by two games, easily their best showing of the year. They swept a two-game series with the Reds in Cincinnati on the strength of pitching — holding the Reds to only one run in each game — and the hitting of (of all people) Keith Lockhart. Lockhart hit a three-run homer in the first game, accounting for all the Braves’ runs, and a solo homer in the second game, accounting for half of them. Unfortunately, he sprained his ankle on defense later in the game, and with Quilvio Veras still hurting (both his ankle and his rib cage) the Braves are down to two healthy middle infielders, Mark DeRosa and Jesse “Rafael Belliard: The Next Generation” Garcia. Lockhart is expected to miss only a couple of days, but ankle sprains are tricky. The Braves might put Veras on the DL — he should have been disabled a week ago — and call up Marcus Giles.

Meanwhile, the Phillies are in the midst of a four-game losing streak after falling to the Yankees in extra innings again and then being swept by the Expos in a two-game series in Montreal. The Phillies are now only three and a half up on the ever-streaky Marlins. Philly will probably make a deal, but looking at their respective runs scored/runs allowed numbers (the Phillies have scored six more runs than they’ve given up, the Marlins seventy-six more), I have to think that Florida will overtake them within six weeks. The Marlins’ differential is actually a little better than the Braves, but they will have to turn it up a notch to make up five and a half games.

Kevin Millwood will pitch tonight, barring some last-minute disaster. His minor-league outings have been promising and it’s hoped that he can be more consistent than the youngsters in the fourth spot in the rotation. Jason Marquis is still listed as being the starter on Saturday but I’ve heard he’s being sent to Richmond tonight. John Smoltz, meanwhile, is rehabbing as a reliever, and is expected to fill that role when he returns to Atlanta. Steve Karsay has looked a little shaky, and the closer door is open.

A Richmond Braves’ beat writer posts on the Fan Home Braves Board, and had this to say:

Talked a little bit to Marcus about this Free Marcus Giles campaign. He was generally flattered that people outside his family would do something like that for him. He thanks everyone, just doubts whether that has an effect or not on Braves management. He says if he is called up, he wants to make everyone in Richmond know he had some special times here so far and will miss Richmond a lot.