Braves frustrated by Giants in loss

Braves frustrated by Giants in loss

SAN FRANCISCO -- Braves manager Bobby Cox understands it's an uphill battle for his club to win the division title. But at the same time, he hasn't stopped coming to the ballpark expecting to win on a daily basis.

Unfortunately for Cox, his attempts have been hindered by an injury-depleted lineup that simply didn't have enough to conquer Tim Lincecum at AT&T Park on Wednesday afternoon. Lincecum battled through some potentially-damaging situations and helped the Giants gain a 3-2 win over the Braves, who haven't won a one-run road game in nearly a full calendar year.

"He's got some of the best stuff in baseball, if not the best stuff," Braves All-Star catcher Brian McCann said in reference to Lincecum, who allowed two earned runs and five hits in an eight-inning effort that concluded with three consecutive strikeouts.

Most of the damage produced against Lincecum came courtesy of McCann, who enjoyed a three-hit performance and further proved he's no longer affected by the mild concussion he suffered on July 27. The Braves catcher has five hits in nine career at-bats against the Giants' ace.

While dropping two of three to the Giants, the only win the Braves recorded came Tuesday night, when Mike Hampton earned his only Major League victory in nearly three full seasons. Cox's team has only seemingly waited that long since recording their last one-run road victory on Aug. 9 of last year.

The Braves have now lost each of their past 26 road games decided by one run. Maybe even more troubling is the fact that they've won just six of the 30 one-run games they've played this season. This statistic is one of the primary reasons they entered Wednesday facing a seemingly insurmountable 9 1/2-game deficit in the National League East race.

"We want to finish [in first place]," said Cox, whose team has lost nine of their last 12 games. "If we don't finish first, we want to finish second. If not second, we want to finish third. We're going to continue to play hard. We owe that to the fans."

Once Tom Glavine makes his expected return to the starting rotation next week, Chuck James will likely return to the Triple-A Richmond affiliate. The struggling southpaw allowed the Giants three earned runs and five hits in four innings and didn't exactly display the promise that would convince the Braves that he belongs in the Majors.

"He was a little better [than his previous start]," Cox said. "He was in the strike zone more, sometimes he caught too much of the plate."

To say James was better than he'd been in his last start, when he allowed the Brewers six earned runs in just 2 2/3 innings, might have been truthful. But at the same time this wouldn't be a ringing endorsement. The fact remains that this 26-year-old hurler, who won 11 games each of the past two seasons, is 2-5 with a 9.18 ERA in his past eight Major League starts.

"I felt better," James said. "I had better location. I'm just pretty much a one-pitch pitcher right now. My changeup isn't fooling anybody right now."

Primarily just a two-pitch pitcher, James was forced to battle the Giants simply with his average fastball. The two-run, first-inning homer that he surrendered to Aaron Rowand came on a changeup that was up in the zone.

In hindsight, McCann said he wished he'd called for a fastball. But given that the changeup had provided James most of his previous big league success, the 24-year-old catcher had reason to signal for it with Rowand facing a 1-2 count.

"If I had a better changeup today, I'd have gone a lot longer and had better results," said James, who has allowed at least one home run in seven straight starts and a total of 25 in his past 16 starts.

While the first-inning homer hurt, James' two-out, third-inning balk proved decisive. It allowed Randy Winn to advance to third base and score on a sacrifice fly from Rowand.

With his spot in the order leading off the fifth inning, James was lifted for pinch-hitter Ruben Gotay, who produced a double and scored on a Yunel Escobar RBI groundout. The Braves' only other run came when McCann highlighted his three-hit performance with a sixth-inning leadoff double that helped him get in position to score on a Mark Kotsay RBI groundout.

"It's hard to score in this ballpark and hard to score against that pitcher," Cox said. "You have to create every opportunity that you can."

The Braves produced at least one baserunner in six of the eight innings that Lincecum pitched. Their most frustrating squandered opportunity came with two outs and runners at first and second base in the fourth inning. Jeff Francoeur ended the inning with a scorching line drive that was hit directly at Fred Lewis in left field.

Francoeur recorded his ninth outfield assist of the season when he retired the speedy Lewis as he attempted to score on a Rich Aurilia sixth-inning flyout. In the first inning, Lewis' accurate throw to the plate prevented Casey Kotchman from scoring on Omar Infante's two-out single.

Throughout the day, Lincecum, who has won each of his three career starts against the Braves, dazzled Atlanta with the effective changeup that James was lacking.

"[Lincecum's] changeup acts like a splitter," McCann said. "If he's got that going, he's tough to hit."

Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.