SAVANNAH -- The Augusta GreenJackets are starting to pull away in the race for a South Atlantic League playoff spot.
The Jackets, in a race for the second-half title in the southern division, widened their lead to four games over Macon. Both teams have eight games left.
On Monday, Augusta won its third straight game and first of a three-game set with Savannah, 8-6. Macon lost to Columbus 5-4. With the loss to Augusta, Savannah dropped to 4 1/2 games off the pace.
Augusta's magic number to clinch the title is now four games. Any combination of Augusta wins and Macon losses totaling four will wrap up the title.
If Augusta wins the southern division title, it would take on Columbus, the first-half winner, in the southern division championship best-of-three series.
In Monday's game Augusta (35-27) led 3-1 through three innings and then erupted for four runs in the fourth to go ahead 6-1.
The GreenJackets had three hits in the fourth inning, keyed by Jose Pena's RBI-double with out and Alex Ahumada two-run double with two out.
Augusta roughed up Savannah ace Travis Hughes, one of the top pitchers in the SAL. After entering the game seventh in the league with a 2.57 ERA, Hughes (10-7) gave up six runs on eight hits in four innings before being lifted.
"I just kept the ball up and they were hitting it," Hughes said. "I didn't adjust to the hitters and I paid for it."
"I just didn't have it," Hughes said. "My slider was flat, my fastball was up. Nothing was really working for me tonight.
"This is the first time they've really hit me well. I've done really good against them all year. I think this is the first time they've beat me. Tonight just wasn't one of my good games."
Savannah manager Paul Carey said that he was looking for a better performance out of Hughes, but added "I'm sure he's disappointed, too.
"He's been our workhorse all year. He's done a great job for us. We wouldn't be where we are without him."
Even with Hughes' subpar performance, though, Savannah almost pulled out the victory. The Sand Gnats closed to within 8-6 with three runs in the eighth, sparked by John Novak's two-run double. But they stranded eight runners, leaving the bases loaded in the sixth when Corey Wright hit into an inning-ending double play.
"We had our opportunities," Carey said. "With runners on third base and less than two outs, we failed three times tonight. We really just needed contact on those plays and it's runs."
With the loss, Carey said that it put the Sand Gnats in the position of having to win the rest of their games to have a chance to make the playoffs.
"We're a little closer to elimination, but I wouldn't count ourselves out," he said.
The two teams meet in the second game of the three-game series tonight with Matt Kosderka (11-8) scheduled to start for the Sand Gnats. Game time is 7:15 p.m.