MIAMI — Six innings in, Chipper Jones and the Braves didn't feel too good about their chances against the Marlins.
Then they figured out Josh Johnson.
Omar Infante hit a two-run triple in the seventh and Kenshin Kawakami pitched six effective innings to carry the Atlanta Braves past the Florida Marlins on Monday night, 5-2 in a matchup between NL wild-card contenders.
Johnson did not allow a hit until the sixth inning, when Matt Diaz lined a 2-2 slider to center field with two outs after Kawakami had a 10-pitch at-bat.
"It's a huge win, probably the biggest one of the year especially sitting back and watching how the first six innings went," Braves third baseman Chipper Jones said.
David Ross, Adam LaRoche, and Yunel Escobar each drove in a run for the Braves in the opener of a four-game series.
With the win, Atlanta (69-62) moved within three games of wild-card co-leaders San Francisco (72-59) and Colorado (72-59), both of which were idle on Monday. Florida (68-63) has lost four of five to fall four games back.
"We are very fortunate we have played some really good baseball since the All-Star break," Jones said. "Pretty much all of September we are going against teams in our division so there won't be any surprises. We have two big series with Florida and I'm sure it's going to be tooth and nail the whole way."
In the seventh, Chipper Jones and Escobar singled off Johnson (13-4) ahead of Infante's triple to deep center field with two outs. Ross then made it 3-1 with a base hit up the middle, forcing Johnson out of the game.
"Just one bad pitch," Johnson said. "The other pitches were a broken bat and a jam shot. They hit one hard ball. It's just one of those days when things don't go your way."
Johnson allowed three runs and five hits in 6 2-3 innings. He struck out eight and walked three.
"Johnson is one of the top guys in baseball," Braves manager Bobby Cox said. "You have to put him in the top five anyway, for me, in all of baseball and that's with some really good ones. He's that good. The kid is that good."
Kawakami (7-10) quietly kept the Braves in the game as he allowed one run and six hits in six innings. He threw 51 of his 75 pitches for strikes and struck out five without walking a batter.
"After giving up that one run, I knew I couldn't give up any more runs with how (Johnson) was pitching," Kawakami said through a translator.
LaRoche and Escobar each drove in a run with back-to-back base hits to right field off Dan Meyer in the eighth to stretch Atlanta's lead to 5-1.
"Anytime your best pitcher is on the mound, you want to win those games," Marlins manager Fredi Gonzalez said. "We didn't add on runs."
The Marlins took a 1-0 lead in the second inning when Jorge Cantu led off with a double down the left-field line and scored on a sacrifice fly to center by Dan Uggla.
Uggla added an RBI double in the ninth.
"There's no sense of urgency," Uggla said. "There's still time, there's still a lot of games left. We're all calm and relaxed and I'm pretty sure we're going to stay that way."
NOTES: Marlins 1B Nick Johnson (strained hamstring) could be activated for the weekend series against the Nationals. ... The Marlins anticipate adding help to their bullpen when rosters expand on Tuesday. ... Following the game the Marlins designated RHP Luis Ayala for assignment and recalled OF Cameron Maybin. RHP Rick VandenHurk will be recalled and start for the Marlins on Wednesday. ... The Braves are 26-17 after the All-Star Break, third-best in the National League behind St. Louis (28-13) and Philadelphia (27-15). ... Diaz has the highest career batting average (.423) at Land Shark Stadium among players with at least 75 plate appearances. ... Braves RHP Tim Hudson (elbow surgery) will make his first start of 2009 on Tuesday. Hudson went 11-7 with a 3.17 ERA in 2008.