LOS ANGELES (AP) - The Atlanta Braves left Dodger Stadium with a triple infusion of confidence for the stretch drive.
Javier Vazquez won his fifth straight decision with eight solid innings, and the resurgent Braves beat the NL West leaders 8-2 on Sunday to take three of the four games in their weekend series. They have won five of their last six overall, and are four games over .500 (58-54) for the first time since they were 5-1 on April 12.
"We've never lost faith all year," said right fielder Matt Diaz, who had a home run and RBI single and helped set up another run with a bunt hit. "We haven't really been scoreboard watching, but we know that if we take care of business and finish enough games above 500, we have a great shot to make the playoffs. And with our pitching staff, we think we can make that happen."
Vazquez (10-7) reached double digits in wins for the 10th consecutive season, handing the NL West-leaders their 10th loss in 15 games.
"You can call it a rut," Dodgers catcher Russell Martin said. "We're not playing our best baseball, but every team goes through stretches like this. We're a little tired of losing, but good teams bounce back - and I consider our team a good team. Their starters just pitched tremendously in this series and just kept the ball off our barrels. It was a tough series for us, but we'll bounce back."
Vazquez allowed a run and five hits, struck out seven and walked two. The right-hander has a 2.49 ERA over his last six outings and has pitched at least seven innings in each of them.
"It was a great win. We're playing great baseball right now," Vazquez said. "We took a frustrating loss in that first game, but to come back against probably the best team in the National League right now and best them three times is a great feeling for us."
The Dodgers, who won the series opener 5-4 on Andre Ethier's walkoff three-run homer in the ninth inning, lost the season series 4-3. The defeat left them 5½ games ahead of the second-place Giants, heading into a three-game set at San Francisco that begins Monday night.
It will be the first meeting between the storied rivals since May 10 at Los Angeles, when Casey Blake hit a tying 12th-inning homer off Brian Wilson - and then was caught on camera in the dugout making a gesture mocking Wilson's crossed-arm, finger-pointing gesture the Giants' closer makes after each successful save.
"The Giants are the club right behind us, and these are the people we have to beat to win our division. So it's important, no question," Dodgers manager Joe Torre said. "They're a real good team, and we knew that from the get-go because of their starting pitching. I am looking forward to it, but it's more about us than the Giants. We've been a little erratic as far as scoring runs, and we've had some good outings and not-so good outings from our
Left-hander Eric Stults (4-3) gave up three runs and five hits over five innings after being recalled from Triple-A to fill in for the injured Jason Schmidt, who is on the disabled list with shoulder problems.
Stults, whose previous start for the Dodgers was on May 30 in a 7-0 loss at Chicago, threw 51 pitches before he was lifted for a pinch-hitter. He was pitching on two days rest after a three-inning stint on Thursday with Albuquerque.
"It's been frustrating here the last couple of days because we've had opportunities to win games and didn't do it," Torre said. "But as the mental state of this club, we're fine. I'm the only one that panics around here, trust me."
NOTES: Atlanta broke it open in the ninth with five runs, including a two-run single by Martin Prado, who had three RBIs. A total of 17 runs were scored by both teams after the eighth inning in this series, which included two extra-inning wins by the Braves. ... Vazquez, who threw 113 pitches, has thrown 98 or more in all but two of his 23 starts this season. His 171 strikeouts are the second-most in the NL behind Tim Lincecum's 198 for the Giants. ... The Dodgers haven't won a season series from the Braves since 2002. ... To make room for Stults on the 25-man roster, the Dodgers
optioned INF Tony Abreu to Triple-A Albuquerque. ... Braves third baseman Chipper Jones missed his third straight game because of a strained oblique muscle on his left side.