The Atlanta Braves are finally showing signs of life—but it’s likely too late to salvage their playoff chances.
The Braves look to build on a masterful performance from their staff ace as they continue their three-game series with the Washington Nationals Saturday at Turner Field.
Atlanta starter John Smoltz took a no-hitter into the eighth inning and allowed just one hit in Friday’s series-opening, 7-1 win. The 40-year-old right-hander said he might have had a shot at his first career no-hitter if he hadn’t thrown 48 pitches in the first three innings.
“It had a chance to be a magical night,” Smoltz said. “I really felt like it would be. Unfortunately, I ran out of gas.”
Smoltz’s gem came one game after Wednesday’s wild 9-8 win over Philadelphia in which the Braves (72-69) rallied from a six-run deficit with seven runs in the final two innings, capped by Matt Diaz’s two-out, three run double in the ninth. Still, the Braves remain 7 1/2 games behind the NL East-leading New York Mets, who beat Houston on Friday.
Friday’s win was Atlanta’s fourth straight against Washington (63-78), including a three-game home sweep June 25-26. The Braves have won eight of their last nine against the Nationals at Turner Field.
Third baseman Chipper Jones, who hit a towering three-run homer Friday, is batting .429 (18-for-42) with four homers and 11 runs and 12 RBIs in 11 games against Washington this season.
The Nationals had a five-game winning streak snapped and managed just two hits after picking up at least 10 in their previous three games.
Washington made five throwing errors in the series opener—including three by third baseman Ryan Zimmerman.
“It’s embarrassing to make one error,” said Zimmerman, who also struck out four times. “To make three is really embarrassing.”
The Braves activated shortstop Edgar Renteria, who had been on the disabled list with a sprained right ankle, but he wasn’t in the lineup. Braves manager Bobby Cox said he is not likely to play this weekend.
On Saturday, the Nationals face a far less daunting starter in Chuck James (9-10, 4.27 ERA), who is making his second start since returning from the disabled list with tightness in the back of his pitching shoulder. He gave up three runs in five innings of last Saturday’s 5-1 loss to the New York Mets, falling to 0-2 with a 7.78 ERA over his last four starts.
He yielded two homers Saturday and has allowed a team-high 27—including a career-high four in his previous start on Aug. 16 against San Francisco.
“For Chuck to be successful like he has been in the past, he’s got to stay ahead in the count and work the ball down in the zone,” catcher Brian McCann told the Braves’ official team Web site.
James is 2-2 with a 4.13 ERA in six career starts against Washington, including 1-1 with a 3.31 ERA in three starts this season.
Washington counters with Matt Chico (5-7, 4.78), who is making his second start since a stint in the minor leagues to fix his control problems. He used a shorter stride and allowed just one run in seven innings against San Francisco on Sunday but didn’t get a decision in Washington’s 2-1 win.
“I was going out there thinking ‘I don’t care if I give up 12 hits tonight— I’m not going to walk anybody,’” said Chico, who made his first major league start since Aug. 17.
The rookie left-hander is 0-5 with a 5.12 ERA in 11 road starts, but 2-1 with a 2.87 ERA in three starts against the Braves.
He has won each of his last two outings against Atlanta, both of which have come opposite James. Chico allowed four runs in 11 innings in those outings, while James yielded six runs in 10 1-3 innings, going 0-1.