Furcal's homers, Smoltz's arm lead Braves win
The Bucs lost their third straight game to red-hot Atlanta.
ATLANTA (AP) -- Chipper Jones' return from the disabled list and the emergence of rookie outfielder Jeff Francoeur have bolstered the middle of the entire Atlanta Braves' offense, starting at the top.
Rafael Furcal homered from both sides of the plate, Marcus Giles had four hits and John Smoltz won his eighth straight decision, leading the Braves over the Pittsburgh Pirates 5-4 Sunday.
"That's what happens when you feel good from both sides of the plate," Furcal said. "I've tried to be patient and have concentration. And I'm healthy. I'm going to home plate to get on base no matter how."
Atlanta was 4 1/2 games off the NL East lead at the end of June, then went 18-8 to take a season-high five-game division over second-place Washington.
"We're on a roll; we're clicking," said Marcus Giles, who had four hits to lift his batting average to .298.
Another title in sight
Seeking its 14th straight division title, Atlanta is 6-0 on a homestand that ends with Monday's finale of the four-game series against Pittsburgh.
"We've got two more months and we've got to keep winning," said closer Chris Reitsma, who had two wins and eight saves in July.
Each team was involved in trades announced after the game. The Braves acquired reliever Kyle Farnsworth from Detroit for pitcher Roman Colon and minor league pitcher Zach Miner, and the Pirates got outfielder Jody Gerut from the Chicago Cubs for outfielder Matt Lawton.
"I think it makes sense for both clubs," Cubs general manager Jim Hendry said.
"I have a good relationship with [Pirates GM] Dave Littlefield and he's a smart guy who had to do it under difficult circumstances financially."
The Pirates have lost five straight and have gone 14-31 since June 11, when they were 30-30. John Grabow (2-1) gave up two runs and three hits in one-third of an inning for the Pirates.
"Until this stretch, we've actually been playing pretty good baseball," Pirates manager Lloyd McClendon said. "We have to keep things in perspective."
Lawton was 0-for-4 Sunday, including a game-ending strikeout. He was batting .273 with 10 homers and 44 RBIs for the Pirates and has also played for Twins (1995-01), the Mets (2001) and the Indians (2002-04).
Lawton left the Pirates clubhouse in Atlanta still waiting for official confirmation of the deal, but seemed resigned to moving on.
"I just love to play baseball," Lawton said. "I'll be going to a contender. You can't ask for more than that. It's the best of both worlds."
Smoltz (12-5), who hasn't lost since June 6 against the Los Angeles Angels, gave up three runs and eight hits in eight innings. Reitsma pitched the ninth for his 14th save in 18 chances.
"I fight the frustration when I give up a few hits like that," Smoltz said, referring to three infield hits by the Pirates. "I'm old enough to realize that I can fight through that and just keep it there. ... All in all, to go eight innings was probably a bigger deal for me than anything else."
Pittsburgh went ahead 3-2 in the fourth on Daryle Ward's RBI double, Jack Wilson's run-scoring single and Fogg's RBI grounder.
Fogg gave up three runs and 11 hits in six innings. The 11 hits allowed matched his season high, on June 12 against Tampa Bay.
"I didn't get the ball down at all today," Fogg said. "Eleven hits in six innings proves the point that I wasn't pitching down in the zone. ... When Furcal got the home run in the fifth, it shifted the momentum back to them."
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