The Atlanta Braves are right back where they always seem to be: On top of the NL East and steadily pulling away from the competition.
Despite a rash of injuries to their pitching staff, and an extended stint on the disabled list for star third baseman Chipper Jones, the perennial division champions will carry a season-high three-game lead into their weekend series with the Pittsburgh Pirates.
Atlanta, which has lost starters Tim Hudson, John Thomson and Mike Hampton to injuries this season, has somehow found its way back into first place in the East. The Braves, who have won a record 13 consecutive division crowns, entered this week’s series with Washington tied for first place before sweeping the fading Nationals at Turner Field.
Rookie Jeff Francoeur homered twice Thursday as the Braves edged the Nationals 5-4—their third straight one-run win in the series.
Jones, who has played in just 57 of Atlanta’s 102 games this year due to injury, was upset after being spiked high on his leg by Washington’s Jose Guillen in the sixth inning. Jones accused Guillen of “a dirty play” and threatened retaliation when the teams play again at the end of August in Washington.
“I didn’t know what had hit me, I just knew it was high and hard,” Jones said. “I turned around and said ‘What’s up with that?’ and he immediately started apologizing. It’s kind of hard to deck a guy when he is apologizing.”
Jones, who stayed in the game, said he had a minor cut on his leg.
Francoeur, who had three hits and drove in the go-ahead run with an eighth-inning double Wednesday night, had his first multihomer game as he continued to establish himself as a regular in the Braves’ lineup.
Francoeur, called up from the minors on July 7, is hitting .441 with five homers and 12 RBIs in 12 games.
“I’m working real hard on trying to stay focused and having good at-bats,” Francoeur said.
The Pirates had won three straight before dropping two in a row to Florida, including Thursday’s 3-0 defeat.
Jason Bay had a pair of hits for Pittsburgh, which is 1-3 on its seven-game road trip.