The Atlanta Braves are making up ground in the NL East, but it’s likely too little, too late.
They try to wrap up their first three-game sweep of the Florida Marlins in nearly two years when the teams conclude their series at Turner Field on Wednesday night.
The Braves (78-73) beat the Marlins 4-3 on Tuesday for their third straight victory. They have made up four games on the NL East-leading New York Mets in the last five days, but remain 5 1/2 games out of first with 11 games left.
Atlanta is also 5 1/2 games behind San Diego for the NL wild card lead, though four teams stand between the Braves and the Padres.
On Wednesday, the Braves will be aiming for their first three-game sweep of the Marlins (65-86) since Sept. 23-25, 2005. The Braves have won six of their last eight against the Marlins overall to take a 9-8 lead in the season series.
Atlanta, which has not won four straight since July 8-15 - a streak which spanned the All-Star break - scored all of its runs on two-out singles Tuesday. Rookie Yunel Escobar went 3-for-5 with a run and an RBI and is hitting .475 (19-for-40) with two homers in 11 games against the Marlins.
Nine-time Gold Glove-winner Andruw Jones made a diving catch on a line drive in the eighth that prevented the tying run from scoring.
“The funny thing is, it’s the most unbelievable catch you’ll see all night, one of the top plays,” left fielder Matt Diaz said. “But the whole time he was going for it, I fully expected it. Sadly, we take it for granted. We are spoiled.”
Florida, mired in last place in the East, has lost three straight since a four-game winning streak. They have scored nine runs during the skid after totaling 35 during the winning streak.
“We hit some balls really hard,” manager Fredi Gonzalez said. “But they’re allowed to catch the ball, and that’s what they did.”
Miguel Cabrera, who singled in two runs, is hitting .452 (14-for-31) over his last seven games.
The Marlins are hoping staff ace Dontrelle Willis (9-15, 5.34 ERA) can help them avoid a sweep. However, Willis is enduring a frustrating season and has easily surpassed his previous career worst of 12 losses, set last season.
Willis is coming off just his second win in 20 starts and first since Aug. 14. He allowed five runs and walked four batters in six innings on Friday at Colorado, but walked away with the 7-6 victory.
Willis also had two hits, including an RBI triple in the fourth.
“Outstanding,” manager Fredi Gonzalez said. “Not only pitching-wise, but all around. A throwback-type performance.”
Willis is 2-1 with a 5.48 ERA in four starts against the Braves in 2007, and 6-5 with a 4.92 ERA in 18 career starts against them.
Atlanta counters with Chuck James (10-10, 4.30), who gave up three runs in three innings of Friday’s 13-inning, 8-5 win at Washington. The left-hander is 1-2 with a 6.83 ERA over his last six starts.
James has fared well against the Marlins in the past, going 2-1 with a 1.54 ERA in four career appearances - three starts. He allowed one run in 6 2-3 innings of a 12-3 win at Florida on June 29.