Nats' errors helps Braves win, stay in NL playoff race

ATLANTA (AP) -- The Atlanta Braves are still clinging to thoughts of making the playoffs, however slim they may be.

Jeff Francoeur drove in four runs against the bumbling Washington Nationals, who made three errors leading to six unearned runs in a 9-2 loss to the Atlanta Braves on Saturday night.

"With 20 games left, we hope to finish strong. We're on a little roll now," said Francoeur, who also hit a three-run homer.

Atlanta won its third in a row for the first time since early August. The Braves are third in the NL East, 7 1/2 games behind the New York Mets, and 4 1/2 games back of San Diego in the wild-card race.

"Win. That's the only thing we can do. They made a key error. You need a break sometimes. We haven't had any in a while," Atlanta manager Bobby Cox said.

"Obviously we need a big winning streak. We get some luck and the breaks turn for us, like tonight," Francoeur said.

"It would be nice to get a win tomorrow and head up to New York and a little revenge. After that sweep, it left a bad taste," he said.

The Mets swept the Braves in Atlanta last weekend, increasing their lead over them to 7 1/2 before leaving town.

Washington has made eight errors in two games. On Friday night they had five, including three by third baseman Ryan Zimmerman in a 7-1 loss.

"Obviously we haven't been playing good defense over the last two games," Washington manager Manny Acta said.

The Braves got a pair of unearned runs in the first. Edgar Renteria singled with one out and took second when Nationals shortstop Felipe Lopez booted a potential double-play bouncer by Chipper Jones. Matt Chico (5-8) then gave up a single to Mark Teixeira to load the bases, and Francoeur walked to score a run. Andruw Jones followed with a sacrifice fly.

Atlanta made it 6-0 with four unearned runs in the fifth.

With one out, Yunel Escobar and Renteria singled. Chipper Jones then hit a fly ball to the wall in center, but the ball popped out of Nook Logan's glove, hit the wall and then the ground for an error, loading the bases.

Teixeira then hit another potential double-play grounder to Zimmerman, who stepped on third but threw wildly past first base, scoring Escobar. Francoeur followed with a three-run shot that glanced off the glove of right fielder Austin Kearns and dropped over the wall.

"I just rushed the double play [attempt]. I made the hard part and thought I had a little more time. It's not in my head at all," said Zimmerman.

"Anybody can have two bad games. He [Zimmerman] made some bad throws, but he also made some good throws to first tonight," Acta said. "We just won five games in a row. We lose two and we're not going to turn the clubhouse inside out."

Chuck James (10-10) allowed eight hits, walked one and struck out four in 6 1/3 innings for the Braves.

He had a four-hit shutout entering the seventh before running out of gas.

"It felt nice. I went out there and hit my spots. The biggest thing for me was that I felt comfortable," said James, who hadn't won since July 31.

Teixeira added a run-scoring single and Brian McCann drew a bases-loaded walk in the seventh off reliever Saul Rivera for an 8-2 lead. Escobar added a solo home run -- his fourth -- in the eighth.

Chico went five innings. The left-hander gave up six hits, six runs, walked one and struck out five.

The Nationals made it 6-2 in the seventh when Ronnie Belliard hit a two-run homer, his ninth, off James.

Game notes
Renteria was in the starting lineup for just the second time since being placed on the 15-day DL on Aug. 3 with a right ankle sprain. He came back Aug. 22, but tweaked the injury in his first at-bat and had been out since. He hit a hard single to right in his first at-bat in the first inning and singled in the fifth. He finished 2-for-4 and is second in the NL at .337 to Philadelphia's Chase Utley (.339). ... Washington bench coach Pat Corrales, a former Braves coach, was ejected by first base umpire Jim Reynolds in the Atlanta fifth when he protested a two-strike, checked swing by Teixeira.