5 at 10: The mustard belt, Atlanta Braves and a frustrated Dale Earnhardt Jr.

5 at 10: The mustard belt, Atlanta Braves and a frustrated Dale Earnhardt Jr.

July 5th, 2011 by Jay Greeson in Sports

From the "7-Up Stinks Studios," here we go...

Atlanta Braves starting pitcher Tommy Hanson (48) delivers a pitch to Colorado Rockies' batter Mark Ellis in the first inning of a baseball game in Atlanta Monday, July 4, 2011. (AP Photo/John Bazemore)

Atlanta Braves starting pitcher Tommy Hanson (48) delivers...

Braves stay consistent

Want a picture of consistency? Your Atlanta Braves are the third team to 50 wins in the majors - Philadelphia and the New York Yankees are the others. The Braves are 25-18 at home and on the road.

Everything with this club has centered on pitching, and other than Freddie Freeman's two-homer night, the Braves' stellar pitching was again the overwhelming theme.

A day after learning he was officially named an All-Star, Tommy Hanson turned in another all-star effort. Hanson, who has 10 wins and a 2.52 ERA to rank among the league leaders in each category, allowed five base runners in seven innings. He turned it over to the Braves 1-2 knockout punch of Jonny Venters and Craig Kimbrel, who have been outstanding collectively and individually.

So too has Freeman, who may be the only thing that stands between Kimbrel and a Rookie of the Year slam dunk. In a rare appearance in the cleanup spot, Freeman hit his 10 homer in the first and his 11th in the eighth. Freeman's average is up to .272, which on this Braves' team is considered Silver Slugger material. In fact, the pitching has been so good, that no Brave in Monday's starting lineup other than Freeman and Brian McCann had an average better than .250.

That's not only great pitching - that's consistently great pitching.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. (AP Photo/Carlos Osorio)

Dale Earnhardt Jr. (AP Photo/Carlos Osorio)

Junior speaks his mind - and the truth

Even though his winless streak continues to grow, Dale Earnhardt Jr. has returned to being among the threats every week. That's a great thing for NASCAR, which has to smiling now that Junior - easily the sport's most popular driver - is among the contenders weekly and among the contenders to be in the Chase for the Championship.

It's not a great thing for NASCAR, though, when Junior drops the hammer on the current disaster that is restrictor plate racing. But it's the right thing. This weekend's race at Daytona was the latest restrictor-plate race that turned into a two-man bobsled run that made NASCAR a team sport.

Uh, guys, they don't have No. 1 and No. 1B spots on Victory Lane. And Junior, who may have felt different if he had not finished 19th Saturday, was quick to point out the frustration Saturday night.

"I am really ticked off. It was a foolish ... race. I don't know what to tell you," he told reports after race-winner David Ragan used teammate Matt Kenseth's help to survive the late-race fireworks. "I don't like this kind of racing and you know it."

"I'd rather have control of my own destiny and be able to go out there and race and just do my own work and worry about my own self," Earnhardt said on Thursday. "Been growing up all these years racin' for No. 1, lookin' out for No. 1, doing my job. This is what I need to do, I need to do this to get up through the pack. This is how my car drives. Now you are doing it so different. Your thought process and everything you think about during the race is nothing near that."

Amen, Junior. If we thought we were tired of hearing about "fuel strategy," well, the two-team tango that has replaced racing at NASCAR's fastest - and arguably most entertaining and prestigious - tracks must be addressed sooner rather than later.

Five-time hotdog eating champion Joey Chestnut, center, celebrates his fifth Nathan's Famous Hot Dog Eating World Championship win after consuming a total of 62 hotdogs and buns. (AP Photo/John Minchillo)

Five-time hotdog eating champion Joey Chestnut, center, celebrates...

Hot dogs and labor issues

Somewhere on the list between fireworks and taking naps on the list of Fourth of July traditions is the Nathan's hot dog eating contest. We're not saying it's a sport, mind you, but of the things that were shown on ESPN over the weekend, what have you heard more of than Joey Chestnut eating 62 hot dogs in 10 minutes.

Yes, 62. Yes, they were full-sized hot dogs. And yes, the competitors dunk them in water to help them go down easier. Wow.

The only thing that may be crazier was how former six-time champ Takeru Kobayashi spent his July 4th. Kobayashi, who is the most recognized name in professional eating (it's hard to believe we just typed that sentence), has not been competing in these events because he refuses to sign an exclusive contract with Major League Eating (no, we did not make that up). Instead of entering or attending Nathan's contest, Kobayashi was across town eating lunch - which he told the Wall Street Journal consisted of 69 hot dogs. Say what?

OK, three things about that. First, eating as many hot dogs as possible for a shot at $10,000 is gross; doing it for lunch is sick. Second, there are labor issues across the entire sports world if the best competitive eaters are not going toe-to-toe. Third, 62 hot dogs is about 60 too many. Let's just move along.

Toni Rich holds her son Gabriel, 5, as students and supporters gather to pay tribute to live oaks at Toomer's Corner on the campus of Auburn University in Auburn. (AP Photo/Montgomery Advertiser, David Bundy)

Toni Rich holds her son Gabriel, 5, as...

This and that

- Experts say that the Auburn trees may not be doomed after all. Auburn University horticulturist Gary Keever told the Associated Press that it's unknown whether the trees, which are brown and yellow, will survive or not. Harvey Updyke Jr., the 62-year-old Alabama fan with a son named Bear and a daughter named Crimson Tyde, was indicted on charges including criminal mischief and desecration of a venerated object. If the trees live to those charges change to "Attempted" criminal mischief and "attempted desecration of a venerated object?

- Washington Nationals super-prospect Bryce Harper was promoted to Double-A (sadly, the Nationals' Double-A affiliate, the Harrisburg Senators, is not in the Southern League with the Lookouts). Nationals officials say that Harper will not be promoted to the majors this year.

- Derek Jeter was 0-for-4 in his return and you would have thought he spit on the Statue of Liberty. Guys, let it go. Is Jeter, who returned from a DL-stint for a calf injury, as good as he was five years ago? Of course not. But dude is 37, and the only baseball players that were better at 37 than 32 were using some, ahem, help. At least we can pretty safely assume Jeter, who is hitting some 60 points lower than his career average, is not following the Barry Bonds-prescribed method of forever young-ness.

Today's question

Including Tommy Hanson, who got the biggest snub from the all-star selection process? We'll have our answers around 2 p.m.