ATLANTA (AP)—If the Braves could just keep playing Chicago, they’d have a much better chance of making it back to the playoffs.
“We’re making a good run for it,” said James, who allowed two earned runs in seven innings. “We’ve got a lot of momentum right now.”
Atlanta closed to within five games of wild card-leading San Diego, which lost to San Francisco 5-4 in 11 innings. Unfortunately for the Braves, they have only two more games against Chicago this season.
On the year, Atlanta is 5-0 against the Cubs. Going back even farther, the Braves have won 11 of 12 against Chicago, which hasn’t won at Turner Field since April 11, 2004, dropping six in a row.
Of course, the Cubs aren’t winning against anybody these days, losing 17 of 20.
James (9-3), who went to spring training as a longshot to make Atlanta’s pitching staff, has given a huge boost to an injury plagued rotation. The rookie left-hander has won five straight decisions, allowing no more than two earned runs in seven straight starts.
He gave up six hits, walked only one and struck out six against the Cubs.
“I’m definitely confident,” James said. “I kind of just go out there and, here it is. That’s just the easy way. I try to make it as simple as possible.”
His teammates feel just as confident when James takes the mound.
“He goes out there and throws strikes and that takes the pressure off the defense,” Jones said. “That’s what we’ve had my whole career, guys who throw strikes and let the defense work.”
For the second night in a row, the Braves fell behind by a couple of runs early in the game but used the long ball to erase their deficit.
Down 2-0, Atlanta struck back in the third with a pair of two-run homers off Wade Miller (0-1), making his first appearance of the season. Willy Aybar walked with one out and the torrid-hitting LaRoche followed with a 421-foot shot to right-center for his 30th homer.
The first baseman went deep for the second night in a row and is hitting .365 with 17 homers and 46 RBIs in 49 games since the All-Star break.
“I can say it now: 30 was my goal,” LaRoche said. “I’m going to ride it out as long as I can.”
After LaRoche’s homer, Miller followed with a walk to Andruw Jones. Again, the Braves made him pay for putting a man on base as McCann followed with drive into the Atlanta bullpen to make it 4-2.
Jones got in on the power display in the fifth, lining his 33rd homer over the left-field wall to put the Braves up 5-3. The Braves have hit 14 homers in their last three games against the Cubs.
“That’s a lot of homers,” manager Dusty Baker said. “There have been a lot of balls up over the plate. They have a lot of guys who can hit homers. And when they hit homers, they hit them in bunches.”
Not surprisingly, Miller looked rusty in his three-inning stint, giving up five hits and walking five. The right-hander was on the disabled list nearly all season recovering from shoulder surgery over the winter.
“It was good to get back out there,” Miller said. “I wasn’t sure what to expect.”
Matt Murton, a former star at nearby Georgia Tech, homered off James in the second. Ryan Theriot made it 2-0 in the third with a single driving in Juan Pierre, who got into scoring position with his 50th stolen base.
Pierre’s speed led to an unearned run in the fifth. He stole another base, went to third on McCann’s wild throw to second and came home on a sacrifice fly by Aramis Ramirez.
“We’re giving up five, six, seven runs every game,” Baker said. “We’re getting hit hard.”
Atlanta missed a chance to go ahead in the first when Willy Aybar was called out for missing third base. Aybar was at first when LaRoche tripled to right, but the runner failed to touch the final bag on his way home. … For the second night in a row, Braves closer Bob Wickman pitched the ninth in a non-save situation. … Pierre is the first Cubs player to steal 50 bases in a season since Eric Young had 54 in 2000. … Murton attended high school in suburban Henry County before going to Georgia Tech. “I was a Braves fan,” he said. “But now I’m a Cubs fan.” … Braves SS Edgar Renteria didn’t play after coming down with an illness that’s been going through the clubhouse the last three weeks. Tony Pena filled in.