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CBSSports.com Senior Writer

Getting Lee kick-starts Braves' post-Chipper postseason plan


Derrek Lee might not be the very best present retiring Atlanta manager Bobby Cox could get in the aftermath of the crippling injury to Chipper Jones, but this is:

Lee is batting .313 with six homers in 104 plate appearances since the All-Star break. (Getty Images)  
Lee is batting .313 with six homers in 104 plate appearances since the All-Star break. (Getty Images)  
The Braves' summer long ago shifted from a charming little ode to Cox into something far bigger. And now, every piece Atlanta general manager Frank Wren adds in the blistering summer heat might be the final piece needed to hold off Philadelphia and lock up the Braves' first playoff berth since 2005.

Yes, 2010 in Atlanta: From a throwback season to the nostalgic Cox years to throwback to the 14 consecutive division title campaigns.

You know which one Cox prefers.

Lee is Cox's kind of player: Quiet, professional, a gamer. He's got October experience.

He'll turn 35 on Sept. 6 and unquestionably no longer is the player he was in 2005 when he led the National League in OPS and total bases, or even the player he was last summer when he ranked fourth in OPS and ninth in total bases.

In the midst of a criminally disappointing season for the Cubs, Lee has been one of the biggest anchors. His current batting average (.251) and on-base percentage (.335) are his worst since 1999. His power numbers (16 homers and 56 RBI) are nothing to brag about, either.

But as the Braves move toward acquiring Lee for a couple of minor-leaguers, here's the question they first had to answer to themselves: Have we really seen the last gasp from a guy who as recently as last year slugged 35 homers and knocked in 111 runs?

The Phillies, only 2½ games back in the NL East, got second baseman Chase Utley back from the disabled list this week and slugger Ryan Howard isn't far behind.

The Braves lost Jones for the season and have watched first baseman Troy Glaus wilt in the late-summer heat.

Lee isn't so much a straight-up replacement for Jones, obviously, because his Gold Glove is at first base, not third. But in these post-July 31, players-must-clear-waivers days, as the Stones once put it: you can't always get what you want. St. Louis is searching the discard bins for a third baseman as well -- Detroit's Brandon Inge has been mentioned -- after losing rookie David Freese for the season to ankle reconstruction surgery.

But sometimes you get what you need. And if the Braves can plug Lee in at first and, as colleague Danny Knobler reported earlier Wednesday, stash the slumping Glaus on the disabled list until rosters expand on Sept. 1 (thus giving Glaus a needed rest, not to mention time to heal a knee he banged Monday night against Washington), there's a chance it might be exactly what the Braves need.

Their pitching is built to win now. Tim Hudson has pitched himself into Cy Young conversations. We know Derek Lowe can flourish in the post-season. Jair Jurrjens is having an excellent season. Tommy Hanson still hasn't reached his ceiling.

They've positioned themselves beautifully, entering Wednesday night's game at Washington a season-high 21 games over .500. Last time the Braves were that far north of .500? That would be Sept. 29, 2005.

They've been alone in first since May 31. They know what the Phillies can do, we've all seen it. Consecutive World Series appearances in 2008 and 2009, winning it all in '08. The Phillies haven't been at full strength for most of the season. It looks like they're getting close now.

There was a time when it appeared Glaus was just what the Braves needed. He carried them in May, hitting .300 with six homers and 28 RBI in 28 games. Now, he's cracked only two homers and has only 15 RBI over his past 46 games.

Given that and Jones' wrecked knee, what the Braves need now is a closer, and not the kind Billy Wagner has deftly provided.

Tuesday's activation of infielder Martin Prado will be a boost. And the acquisition of Lee should be as well.

Since the All-Star break, Lee is hitting .313 with six homers in 104 plate appearances. Before the break, he managed just 10 homers in 371 plate appearances.

His recovering back remains an issue -- Lee had an epidural the other day and is expected to be out until Thursday -- but if you're the Braves, Lee's post-break ratio of one homer per 17.3 plate appearances as opposed to his pre-break ratio of one per 37.1 plate appearances is a gamble worth taking.

What's within the Braves' reach isn't merely a chance to simply dip a toe into the playoffs this season. Given the parity in the NL this season, Atlanta has a real chance to follow Philadelphia and make it a third consecutive year in which the NL East titlist represents the NL in the World Series.

The retiring Cox is legendary. He is beloved, both in Atlanta and around the game.

But if he could go out on that kind of note -- with Lee helping -- well, I know one thing.

It'd beat a retirement rocking chair, hands down.


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