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Johnson trails Cuddyer in race for batting title

The Atlanta Braves’ Chris Johnson hits a RBI single while playing the Chicago Cubs during the ninth inning of their National League MLB baseball game in Chicago. (REUTERS: John Gress)

The Atlanta Braves’ Chris Johnson hits a RBI single while playing the Chicago Cubs during the ninth inning of their National League MLB baseball game in Chicago. (REUTERS: John Gress)

When Chris Johnson lifted his batting average to .334 with hits in his first two at-bats on Saturday against the Cubs in Chicago, it looked like a third Braves third baseman really might win a National League batting title.

Johnson now needs a red-hot finish to overtake Colorado’s Michael Cuddyer, though.

“If it happens, it happens,” Johnson said. “If it doesn’t, I’m fine. We’re going to the playoffs; that’s all I care about.”

Cuddyer had a three-hit game on Sunday to regain the lead and Johnson was hitless in 10 at-bats before getting time off Tuesday as manager Fredi Gonzalez continued resting regulars with the NL East title clinched.

It was just the fourth time Johnson, his average down to .327, hadn’t started in 91 games dating to June 12.

“I’d like for him to get an opportunity to do it, but he needs to be fresh, too,” Gonzalez said.

Cuddyer was 2-for-4 on Tuesday in Colorado’s victory over the Boston Red Sox, raising his average to .335 — eight points better than Johnson.

Neither Johnson nor the veteran Cuddyer, who came into the season with a .271 career average, figured to be hitting anywhere near this high with September drawing to a close.

“I’m just glad to be where I’m at this late in the season,” Johnson said. “Actually my teammates are thinking about it more than I am. They’re rooting for me more than I’m rooting for myself.”

Johnson, 28, was almost an afterthought in the trade that brought Justin Upton to Atlanta from Arizona over the winter, and he began the season platooning at third base. Juan Francisco, though, was traded to Milwaukee and Johnson flourished in a full-time role as the replacement for the retired Chipper Jones.

Jones won a batting title in 2008 with a .364 average and Terry Pendleton, another Braves third baseman, did it in 1991 at .319.

Johnson hit .308 as a rookie with Houston in 2010, but his career average coming into this season was .276.

“If I would have said, ‘Yes, I’m expecting this,’ I’d be lying to you because he’s never had a track record of this,” Gonzalez said. “But his approach is good enough. Know what? He could do this again next year.”