Before their current 10-game homestand started, veteran starter John Smoltz said that his Atlanta Braves would need eight wins to get back into the postseason race. With a win on Sunday, the Braves can come close to realizing that goal.
The Braves wrap up a difficult first half of the season Sunday when they end their four-game series with the Cincinnati Reds at Turner Field.
The Braves (39-49) have won 14 straight division titles, but a 6-21 June has put that unprecedented streak in jeopardy. After a heartbreaking 12-inning, 4-3 loss June 28 to the New York Yankees, Smoltz made his ultimatum.
“We have to go 8-2 to end the first half,” he said. “If we can do that, it will be a decent ending to a first half.”
The Braves have won six games so far on the homestand, including Saturday’s 4-1 victory. The Braves are in fourth place in the NL East, but are just one-half game behind third-place Florida and one behind second place Philadelphia. The New York Mets, though, lead the division by 12 games.
Smoltz pitched eight strong innings and drove in a run, and Jeff Francoeur hit a two-run, two-out go-ahead homer for Atlanta. Francoeur entered the game tied with Boston’s David Ortiz for the major league lead with 33 two-out RBIs.
“I don’t know what it is,” he said. “It’s something I pride myself in. Obviously it’s being at the right place at the right time. I really wanted to get up that inning. I like to be up in those situations.”
Braves third baseman Chipper Jones hit a one-out triple in the eighth, giving him a team-record 10 straight games with an extra-base hit. Jones, last week’s NL Player of the Week, is hitting .489 (23-for-47) during a 12-game hitting streak.
Edgar Renteria is hitting .364 (20-for-55) during a 13-game hitting streak.
The Reds (45-43) have dropped seven of eight to fall three games behind first-place St. Louis in the NL Central. Ken Griffey Jr. scored their only run.
Catcher David Ross, who strained his lower abdominal muscle Friday, flew back to Cincinnati Saturday for an MRI that will be read Sunday.
Manager Jerry Narron said backup Javier Valentin may catch for Bronson Arroyo in the finale. Arroyo (9-5, 2.79 ERA) allowed a season high-tying five runs in seven innings of Tuesday’s 5-2 loss to the Milwaukee Brewers.
Arroyo is 2-0 with a 3.65 ERA in five career appearances, including four starts, against the Braves. He will face Atlanta’s John Thomson (2-7, 5.05), who lost his fourth straight decision Tuesday. Thomson was tagged for five runs and seven hits in 3 2-3 innings of a 6-3 defeat to the St. Louis Cardinals.
The start was Thomson’s first since June 14 following a stint on the disabled list with blister on his right hand. Thomson, who did not make any rehab appearances before his return, said that he felt “a little bit rusty.”
“I’d rather have better results, but I’m glad to be back out there,” he said. “Something so small, to keep me out for 2 1/2 weeks is just real frustrating.”
Thomson owned a 1.87 ERA following an 8-1 loss to Washington on May 14 in which he allowed just one unearned run in five innings, but has gone 1-4 with a 9.18 ERA in his last seven starts.
He is 2-2 with a 6.65 ERA in four career starts against the Reds.