James shines to give Braves sweep
Lefty tosses seven shutout; Renteria, Teixeira, Andruw go deep
ATLANTA -- If the Braves continue this recent run of success over the final 10 games of the regular season, they'll at least head into the offseason in style. But at the same time, they might be carrying the frustration caused by the fact that they simply did too little, too late.
Too early to completely erase their aspirations to advance to the postseason and too far back in the pack to consider these aspirations to be realistic, the Braves find themselves in an odd position. But while winning five of their past six games, they've at least shown why many at one time considered them locks to be playing in October.
"It's a shame that this kind of baseball has been in us all along," Chipper Jones said after the Braves claimed a 5-1 win at Turner Field on Wednesday night to complete a three-game sweep of the Marlins. "It just hasn't showed up consistently enough out there on the field."
Obviously, the most glaring inconsistencies have been evident at the back end of a rotation that would've proven much more consistent had it been able to contribute many more of these kinds of performances from Chuck James, who limited the Marlins to two hits over seven scoreless innings. James worked seven innings for just the fourth time in 29 starts this year.
"It was one of his best games since he's been up here," Braves manager Bobby Cox said of James, who had produced one of his worst performances on Saturday, when he received a three-run first-inning lead and then lasted just three innings.
James, who was 1-2 with a 6.83 ERA in his previous six starts, needed some support to win for just the second time since the beginning of August, and without much surprise, Jones and Edgar Renteria were there to provide it. Renteria's solo shot and Mark Teixeira's two-run blast accounted for all the damage Marlins starter Daniel Barone incurred during the three-run first inning.
With a three-hit performance, Renteria increased his batting average to .338. Jones' two hits provided him with a .339 average. Both of them are battling Colorado's Matt Holliday for the National League batting crown. Holliday went 2-for-3 on Wednesday to raise his average to .340.
"I hope they finish 1-2 in any order," said Cox, who understandably would prefer to be talking about his team's place in the postseason chase.
But with just 10 games left and facing a 5 1/2-game deficit in the NL East race, it's obviously too early to be speaking openly about the disaster the Mets would have to incur to allow Atlanta to regain division supremacy. As for the crowded Wild Card race, it's simply too crowded to currently allow for great optimism.
"It could be different," said Andruw Jones, who homered for the second time in the series to give James an eighth-inning insurance run. "If we had streaks like this earlier in the year where we won four games in a row, it could be a different season. You can't make excuses about what we didn't do or what we should have done. We just have to go out there and finish strong."
It's been rare for Jones to homer twice in a series this year and even rarer to see James exit a start without allowing one. But while proving perfect in five of his seven innings, James managed not to allow a long ball for the first time in 11 starts.
"I've definitely beat myself up a good bit this year," James said. "It's definitely been my most frustrating year in terms of mechanics and just trying to be consistent out there. I've definitely not had this problem before. But it's been a great learning year for me."
While he's now matched the 11-win total that he notched during his successful rookie season, James hasn't been nearly as successful as he was last year, when opponents were still gaining a feel for his delivery. Admittedly worrying too much about mechanical issues that arose when he fought a fatigued shoulder at the beginning of the season, he's seldom been able to enjoy these kinds of nights.
"It's definitely been a while since I went that far, and I definitely needed it," said James, whose previous seven-inning effort had come on July 20. "It gives me the confidence to finish the year out strong and get ready for next season. We'll see how far we can take this thing this year."
It still remains to be seen what this current run will ultimately mean for the Braves. Their next seven games come against the Brewers and Phillies -- two teams that certainly are facing lesser odds in the hunt for the postseason.
While measuring themselves up against two of the NL's better teams, the Braves can also improve their position and maybe at least make things interesting down the stretch. This is an opportunity afforded only by the fact that they've at least finally shown some form of consistency.
"Whenever you win five out of six, you're playing good baseball," Chipper Jones said. "Our job is to come out here and play good baseball. So right now, everybody feels pretty good about themselves."
Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.