Notes: Chipper having banner season
Veteran third baseman leading league in several categories
ATLANTA -- After Thursday night's victory over the Brewers, Braves manager Bobby Cox said Chipper Jones might be producing the finest season of his career. As the veteran third baseman finds himself in position to win his first batting title, there's obviously validity to Cox's comments.
But more impressive is the fact that when healthy, Jones has been, it can be argued, as productive as any other Major Leaguer since the midway point of 2006.
Among those Major Leaguers who have compiled at least 765 plate appearances since June 26 of last year, Jones ranks first in both batting average (.354) and slugging percentage (.661). The .437 on-base percentage he's produced during this span ranks second only to David Ortiz's .439 mark.
"He's just unbelievable," Braves All-Star catcher Brian McCann said. "He's a professional hitter."
Had he not missed nearly a month because of the hand injuries he suffered on May 11, Jones might currently be mentioned with Colorado's Matt Holliday, Philadelphia's Jimmy Rollins, Milwaukee's Prince Fielder and New York's David Wright as one of the front-runners for the National League MVP Award.
Entering Friday, Jones led the NL with a .342 batting average and ranked third in both on-base percentage (.430) and slugging percentage (.606). His league-leading 1.036 OPS sat just ahead of the marks posted by Holliday (1.016) and Fielder (1.003).
The Braves haven't been considered legitimate postseason threats over the course of the past few weeks, hurting Jones' candidacy. But so has the fact that his time missed has left him with just 26 homers and 96 RBIs -- neither of which rank in the NL's top 10.
During his 1999 NL MVP season, Jones hit .319 with a career-best 45 homers and 110 RBIs. Along with hitting for a higher average this year, the veteran third baseman also has taken advantage of more run-producing opportunities than he did during his MVP campaign.
He's hitting .317 with runners in scoring position and .321 with men on base. In 1999, he hit .308 with runners in scoring position and .280 with men on base.
Motivated Bennett: Still receiving congratulations for the sterling performance that earned him his first career win on Thursday, Jeff Bennett returned to Turner Field on Friday and ran the stadium's stairs. The 27-year-old right-hander did the same on Wednesday, when the Braves brought him back to the Majors for the first time since 2004.
"You've got to get your routine," said Bennett, who didn't regularly run stadium stairs until he went home for this year's All-Star break and was told by his wife that he was overweight.
Since starting to run on a regular basis, Bennett has dropped nearly 30 pounds and now weighs approximately 225 pounds. This conditioning has proven to be a benefit over the past month, while he was transitioning from a long reliever into a starter.
After limiting the Brewers to one earned run in 5 2/3 innings on Thursday, Bennett received approximately 30 text messages. Some were from the guys he played with in the Braves' Minor League system this year and others were from some of the teammates he had when he was in the Brewers organization.
"It was good to hear from them," said Bennett, who made 60 relief appearances for Milwaukee in 2004. "It's nice to know they're thinking about you."
Smoltz honored: John Smoltz has been awarded the 2007 Branch Rickey Award, which the Rotary Club of Denver has presented since 1991 to baseball individuals who contribute unselfishly to their community and are strong role models for young people.
The award is voted upon by a national selection committee that consists of sports media members, past award winners, baseball executives and Rotary district governors.
Four at 100? With nine games remaining, the Braves still had a chance to have four players collect 100 RBIs. Jeff Francoeur has already reached the mark for a second consecutive year, and Jones entered Friday just four away from reaching the century mark for the eighth time in his career and first time since 2003.
As for Andruw Jones (92) and Brian McCann (91), they too have a chance of reaching the 100-RBI plateau. The last Major League team to have four players reach this mark was the 2003 Braves -- Gary Sheffield, Javy Lopez and both Joneses.
Coming up: The Braves will continue their four-game series against the Brewers on Saturday at 3:55 p.m. ET. They'll send Smoltz (14-7, 2.97) to the mound to oppose Yovani Gallardo (9-4, 3.66).
Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.