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Reeling Braves head to Chicago, begin 10-game stint on road

ATLANTA - 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 31/2 to 61/2 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.'

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

Jones said he plans to test the sore muscle today.

'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.'