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Braves looking to improve upon league-worst record away from home
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Three straight losses to Philadelphia left the Atlanta Braves looking like also-rans again in the NL East.

Chipper Jones is more concerned about what 10 straight road games will do for the team’s season.

The Braves, who were off Monday, are to play the first of 10 road games in 10 days tonight at the Chicago Cubs.

The Braves, only 7-21 away from Turner Field, have the fewest road wins in the major leagues. That’s enough cause for concern, but there’s more: Before the Braves play, John Smoltz is to have season-ending shoulder surgery this afternoon in Birmingham. The surgery is expected to reveal if Smoltz can resume his career in 2009.

Meanwhile, Jones is expected to miss his second straight game with a small tear of his right quadriceps.

The Braves hope Jones’ injury is a temporary setback. Jones is worried what a losing road trip could do to the team’s long-term hopes, especially after a 3-4 homestand ended with three straight losses to the NL East-leading Phillies.

"We just lost all three games to the division leaders," Jones said. "We went from 3« to 6« out, and we’re heading out on the road where we haven’t exactly lit it up. So I don’t know about anybody else, I’m worried. I don’t want to come back from this road trip and be out of the race."

The task for the road-challenged Braves won’t be easy. The Braves play at the Cubs, who lead the NL Central with baseball’s best record, and at the Los Angeles Angels, who lead the AL West.

The Braves are scheduled to play one makeup game at Colorado next Monday before ending the road trip at Texas, which entered today only one game under .500.

"It’s not going to be easy," Jones said. "Some people in here better start picking it up."

A similar challenge was issued by first baseman Mark Teixeira after Sunday’s 6-3 loss to the Phillies. Teixeira said some young players may be pressing as they attempt to make up for the absence of Jones from the lineup.

"We do have a lot of young guys that are asked to step up right now," Teixeira said. "I remember my first couple years in the league, every time we had guys on base, I wanted to hit a grand slam. The young guys have to realize it doesn’t take a home run every time, it doesn’t take a big hit every time. Put together some quality at-bats and good things are going to happen."

Jones, leading the majors with a .420 batting average, injured the quadriceps muscle on April 9 in Colorado and had to leave a game on April 20 in Atlanta after irritating the injury.

Jones said he plans to test the sore muscle today.

The loss of Jones puts more pressure on Jeff Francoeur, Brian McCann and Yunel Escobar.

The team also was without closer Rafael Soriano for the last three games of the homestand with a sore right elbow. Soriano’s season-long issues with the elbow became a bigger concern when Smoltz announced he would have shoulder surgery.

"It’s times like this that can truly show a team’s character," said Braves reliever Will Ohman. "We’ll see how we rebound in Chicago.

"I think it’s going to show our mettle, how we come out and play on this road trip."

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