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ARI@ATL: Hanson dominant, fans five over 6 1/3 frames

Hot-shot rookie first baseman Anthony Rizzo represents the beacon of hope for the Cubs as they turn to the final three months of what so far has been a tough 2012 season.

The Cubs and Braves start a a four-game series Monday at Turner Field with the Cubs, thanks in large part to Rizzo, feeling a sense of optimism as they go up against against right-hander Tommy Hanson, a 25-year-old young veteran who could probably explain a thing or two to the rookie about making his way through the early portion of his career.

Rizzo, 22, has played five games since being called up from the Cubs' Triple-A Iowa team last week, where he hit 23 home runs in 70 games.

He has been earmarked as the Cubs' star of the future since general manager Jed Hoyer traded to get him from the Padres in January, and his promotion to the Majors has provided fans with a focal point for the final half of the season.

The Cubs are 29-49 and in last place in the National League Central, but they are coming off a 3-0 victory over the Astros on Sunday and are on a three-game winning streak.

Rizzo has made a difference, Cubs manager Dale Sveum said.

"The lineup will be more stable than it has been. The addition of Rizzo, another power bat, left-handed, obviously makes a difference, and it already has," the manager said. "He's had two game-winning hits in the four games he's been here."

One can only wonder what might have happened if Rizzo or another big bat had been a part of the lineup in the first half of the season.

"You look back on the first half, and basically the difference is so many one-run ballgames where we didn't score runs or get that one extra run to win it or tie it, or a home run, things like that," said Sveum. "Those things should be a little better going into the second half, and [we should] win more of those games."

Rizzo was 1-for-4 Sunday and drove in a run, his fourth since joining the Cubs.

That came a day after his two-run homer Saturday lifted the Cubs to a 3-2 victory over the Astros.

In his fifth season with the Braves, Hanson already as 93 Major League starts under his belt.

He's 9-4 this season with a 3.59 ERA, and has won his last two starts.

He persevered through 6 1/3 innings in his last start Wednesday against the D-backs, giving up seven hits and three earned runs to get the win in a 6-5 Braves victory.

"I feel like I'm kind of in the middle," Hanson said after the win over Arizona. "I'm just learning some things. I don't obviously think I'm a veteran, but I'm not a rookie either."

There's still plenty to learn, he said.

"I don't have anything figured out, but I know I can compete at this level, and I know what I do wrong when I do it wrong," he said. "I'm learning how to pitch more, and I'm doing a better job of learning when to throw certain pitches and when not to. I'm learning about myself as a pitcher and how guys are trying to hit off me, and how I need to counter that."

Cubs: Samardzija gets the start
The Cubs' starter Monday will be right-hander Jeff Samardzija, who is 5-7 with a 5.05 ERA.

Samardzija was roughed up for nine runs in 4 1/3 innings in the Cubs' 17-1 loss to the Mets in his last start Wednesday.

Braves: McCann trying to figure it out
Braves catcher Brian McCann got the day off Sunday as the Braves lost to the Nationals, 8-4. McCann caught nine innings in 104-degree heat Saturday.

McCann, a .284 lifetime hitter, is hitting .226 and is 0-for-his-last-10, but should be back in the lineup to face the Cubs on Monday.

"I don't really have an explanation for it, other than I'm just not getting it done," McCann said Sunday. "I'll feel good for a couple games and I'll feel bad for four or five games. I've never really struggled for longer than a little bit. A couple games here or there, and then make an adjustment, and then I'm fine."

Worth noting
• Braves veteran Chipper Jones was 1-for-3 Sunday with a double, and has an eight-game hitting streak.

• Left fielder Martin Prado also had a double in three at-bats, extending his hitting streak to seven games. Comments