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CHC@ARI: Garza strikes out seven over seven frames

With their 5-1 win against the Braves on Wednesday, the Cubs closed out the mathematical first half of their season with a 31-50 record, tied for last in the Major Leagues.

They hope to start off the latter 81 games of their 2012 campaign a little better, and a series win against the Braves would be a good start. Chicago's Matt Garza (4-6, 4.01 ERA) will take the mound opposite Atlanta's Mike Minor (4-6, 6.20) in the finale of a four-game series on Thursday.

"When you're [19] games under .500, you've obviously underachieved," Cubs manager Dale Sveum said. "The thing about it is there have been two glaring things. We have to start throwing strikes, period, and you have to hit with men in scoring position."

Sveum said he would like to see his club play above .500 baseball in the second half, but added that the Cubs are taking a one-day-at-a-time approach.

"It's still a day-to-day game," Sveum said. "You have the goal of winning series, winning the first game of the series and go from there. You can't win series a lot of times unless you win that first game of the series."

On the other hand, the Braves are 42-39 at their mathematical halfway point and sit in third place in the National League East, 1 1/2 games behind the second-place Mets and six behind first-place Washington.

Chipper Jones, who will appear in his eighth All-Star Game on Tuesday in Kansas City, has been impressive at the plate. The 40-year-old third baseman owns an 11-game hitting streak, his longest in two years, and has seven hits over the last two games, including his third career five-high game Tuesday.

"He's doing it offensively and defensively," Braves first baseman Freddie Freeman said. "It looks like he's 22 out there again. It's a lot of fun to play every day, to come to the yard and see the energy that he brings."

Cubs: Dempster could return on Sunday
Ryan Dempster, who has been on the disabled list since June 16 with a tight right lat, may make his return in Sunday's game against the Mets, their last game before the All-Star break.

On Wednesday, Dempster threw his second bullpen session since going on the DL and said afterward that he might be ready for Sunday. He said he feels like he has his full range of motion back.

"I think they want to wait until [Thursday] and see how it feels, and then we'll have an idea and an answer," said Dempster, who was 3-3 with a 2.11 ERA in 12 starts before going on the DL. "It's easy to say 'yes' today when you feel great throwing a side. We'll see how it feels tomorrow."

Sveum didn't dismiss the idea that Dempster could return in time for the series' finale at New York. Chris Volstad (0-7, 7.94) is currently slated to start on Sunday.

"I know he's serious [about it], and we'll give it some thought," Sveum said. "[Wednesday's] session went great, and we'll probably evaluate him [Thursday] and Friday and make a decision on Friday and see how everything goes the next couple days."

Braves: Vote for Bourn through Thursday, 4 p.m. ET
On Thursday, center fielder Michael Bourn will learn his fate for Tuesday's All-Star Game in Kansas City. Bourn was one of four National League players up for the 2012 All-Star Game Final Vote Sponsored by Firestone. In the latest voting update released on Wednesday, Bourn was in third place behind the Cardinals' David Freese and Bryce Harper, the Nationals' rookie phenom.

The balloting concludes on Thursday at 4 p.m. ET.

"Of course anybody who has ever played baseball wants to go play in an All-Star Game," said Bourn, who represented the Astros in the 2010 Midsummer Classic. "I was able to go once, but I would love to go multiple times."

After falling a homer away from the cycle in Wednesday's game, Bourn is hitting .310 with 57 runs scored, seven homers, 32 RBIs and 23 stolen bases.

"It's all up to a vote," Bourn said. "You can't control it. Either way I'm prepared. We'll see what happens."

• Freeman is still experiencing some discomfort in his left index finger, an injury that occurred when he was hit by a throw from Miami's Jose Reyes a month ago.

Freeman received two cortisone shots two weeks ago and said he thinks he will get another before the All-Star break.

"It's as good as it's going to get," said Freeman, who is hitting .256 with 10 homers and 47 RBIs. "I can make a fist every day. It's really tight when I make a fist, but I can still swing, I can still do everything."

Worth noting
• Ben Sheets pitched his first game since the Braves signed him to a Minor League contract on Sunday. On the mound for Double-A Mississippi, Sheets gave up four runs on five hits in five innings. The right-hander struck out six and walked one in his first start since Tommy John surgery in August 2010.

• Braves left fielder Martin Prado extended his hitting streak to 10 games in the first inning of Wednesday's loss. It marks the second time this season he's owned such a streak.

• Cubs third baseman Ian Stewart will have surgery on his left wrist on Tuesday. Stewart, who was hitting .201 with five homers and 17 RBIs in 55 games during his first year with Chicago, will likely be out for the rest of the season. Comments