ARLINGTON, Texas - For weeks, Atlanta's Gary Sheffield has repeatedly warned that when the offense starts to limber up, watch out.
His words are starting to ring true.
After the Braves completed a weekend sweep Sunday night of the Texas Rangers, winning 9-3 at The Ballpark in Arlington, it was noteworthy that six RBI belonged to two hitters whose thunder has been largely absent this season.
One night after leaning on Andruw Jones to save their bacon once more, the Braves won again, varying the theme this time to include Javy Lopez and Vinny Castilla, who were a collective 5 for 8, including two doubles and a home run, making life infinitely more miserable for a Texas club that has lost more games than all but two other American League teams.
"I'm looking for six or seven runs a day," said Sheffield, who went deep against reliever Todd Van Poppel in the seventh. "We always say that if the bottom of the lineup comes through, it makes it easier for the top of the lineup."
Granted, the Braves won their sixth straight against a Rangers pitching staff that ranks second-worst in the AL in ERA (5.19), but there's no denying they are on their best roll of the season, as they have won 12 of their last 14, and are 18-5 since May 15.
The Braves did it with no contributions from their first two batters - Rafael Furcal and Darren Bragg - who were a collective 1 for 8. Their next six hitters, though, accounted for nine hits, and Castilla, Lopez, and Sheffield drove in eight runs.
"We broke out pretty good," manager Bobby Cox said. "It was good to see Javy get untracked. I think some guys' confidence is getting going and that's important."
Castilla, who has driven in more runs than any other Brave except Jones, but had knocked in a run in just five of the last 14 games, drove home two in the first four innings. He doubled home Jones in the second, then followed Chipper Jones' single and catcher Ivan Rodriguez's passed ball in the top of the fourth with a run-scoring single. Julio Franco walked and Lopez followed with a sacrifice fly, making second baseman Michael Young pay for his throwing error as Castilla retreated to first on a botched hit-and-run.
Lopez, whose odds of a multi-RBI night (3 RBI in his last 19 games) were even greater than Castilla's, knocked in two more with a two-out double against Rangers starter Dave Burba in the sixth that made it 5-2.
"The good thing about this ballclub is it's not one guy doing it," said Franco, who reached base three times and scored a run. "It's a different guy every day. I like that."
Burba, the 35-year-old righthander, was lifted after six, and the Rangers' bullpen, fortified by the return of John Rocker, had the crowd of 35,436 reaching for their car keys when Bragg walked in the seventh and Sheffield followed with a home run into the left field seats, his ninth of the season.
The Braves scored two runs against reliever Aaron Myette in the eighth, Franco tripling and scoring on a wild pitch, then Lopez launching a 401-foot home run into the left field stands, his first since May 11.
"This is the way everybody expects us to play," said Castilla, who was 3 for 5 and boosted his RBI total to 40.
Braves righthander Jason Marquis, who had 10 days off between starts, coasted through the first two innings before trouble erupted in the third.
Ryan Ludwick opened the home half of the inning by smoking a double into the right-center field gap, then second baseman Jesse Garcia knocked down Young's grounder, but the ball escaped his glove and trickled into shallow right field, sending in Ludwick with the game-tying run.
In the fourth, Rafael Palmeiro ended an 11-game drought without a home run with an arcing shot into the right field seats, a drive estimated at 367 feet, his 12th home run of the season and 459th of his career.
Marquis, who had won three of his last four starts, dodged trouble in the fifth when Rodriguez beat out an infield hit and he hit Alex Rodriguez with a pitch. He coaxed Rangers slugger Juan Gonzalez to roll into an inning-ending double play, then was lifted after seven having thrown 113 pitches.
"We struggled through the first six weeks, but we've really picked it up," Marquis said.
That's what Sheffield has been saying all along.
Reach Bill Zack at email@example.com.
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