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Posted: 4:53 p.m. Sunday, May 4, 2014

Skidding Braves: Giants sweep 3 in ATL for first time since ‘88

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By David O'Brien

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

The last time the Giants swept a three-game series in Atlanta, Craig Kimbrel was 1 month old and Jason Heyward, Freddie Freeman and Alex Wood were among many current Braves not yet born.

But they can no longer say it hasn’t happened in their lifetimes. The Giants used home runs and dominant pitching to beat the Braves 4-1 Sunday and complete a three-game sweep at Turner Field, their first in Atlanta since June 27-29, 1988.

“I don’t want to use the word frustrating, but I don’t know what’s another word I can use,” said manager Fredi Gonzalez, who indicated there would be lineup changes Monday when the Braves, mired in a six-game losing skid, face the Cardinals in the opener of the second series on a nine-game homestand.

The offense has been alarmingly unproductive, wasting scoring opportunities time and again. The Braves (17-13) have hit .186 and totaled 11 runs in seven games, and their six-game skid is their longest since an eight-game streak in May 2012.

“We’ve got too good of a club, too talented of a club offensively to keep throwing up one run or two runs every night,” Gonzalez said.

The woeful offense has put consistent pressure on a pitching staff that finally showed signs of the ongoing stress in the past week, though Braves starters still pitched well enough to win all weekend with any support.

Wood (2-5) gave up seven hits and two runs in five innings, with one walk and seven strikeouts. He threw 104 pitches and was replaced by a pinch-hitter with a runner on in the fifth inning.

While Gonzalez didn’t like to use the word frustration, Braves third baseman Chris Johnson said it was appropriate for the current situation with Braves hitters, who rank in the majors’ bottom three in hitting with runners in scoring position and dead last in those situations with two outs. They are 3-10 in games when they don’t hit a homer.

“We’ve got to keep grinding it out, we’ve got to keep working and try to figure out what’s going on,” Johnson said. “It’s the first time since I’ve been over here that we’ve kind of experienced something like this, so I think it’ll tell a lot about our ballclub, to see how we respond and how we bounce back form something like this.”

Giants left-hander Madison Bumgarner allowed three hits and one run in six innings, with one walk and nine strikeouts. The Braves have 57 strikeouts in their past seven games, and rank 29th in the majors in runs (99 in 30 games) despite being tied for sixth in home runs (32) before Sunday.

“We’ve got to turn the corner and just turn this thing around, like now,” said second baseman Dan Uggla, who went 0-f0r-4 Sunday and is 9-for-55 with one double and no RBIs in 15 games since hitting two homers including a grand slam on April 14 at Philadelphia.

Gonzalez said lineup changes were likely, but also said they wouldn’t be wholesale changes.

“I don’t know about shaking it up too much,” he said. “It’s the (same) club, basically, that won the division last year, won 96 games. (But) sometimes you’ve got to take a little step back before you go forward, and … all the starters have gotten over 100-something at-bats, so you know what, it’s maybe come in and see something a little different.”

The Braves didn’t lose more than four in a row last season on the way to a 96-66 record and National League East title.

The Giants swept without getting a hit with a runner in scoring position all weekend. No need to when you’re hitting home runs – they hit seven in the series – and watching the Braves fail repeatedly in scoring opportunities.

Brandon Crawford had his first multi-homer game, the second homer a two-run shot off reliever Jordan Walden in the eighth that turned a 2-1 lead into a three-run margin that might as well have been 10 the way the Braves have played.

After Heyward flied out with runners on the corners to end the fifth inning and Evan Gattis struck out with a runner at third to end the sixth, Braves other than Freddie Freeman were 8-for-94 (.085) with runners in scoring position and two outs.

The Braves had two opportunities to bring in the tying run in the sixth, after B.J. Upton drew a leadoff walk, collected his seventh stolen base and went to third on Freeman’s fly out to deep center. But with his brother standing at third base with the potential tying run, Justin Upton popped out foul on the first pitch, and Gattis struck out.

Upton went 0-for-4 with three strikeouts. Gattis was 0-for-4 with two strikeouts to make him 2-for-21 with eight strikeouts in his past seven games.

Ramiro Pena was the first Brave to reach base on a one-out single in the third inning. Wood followed with a sacrifice bunt, and Bumgarner fielded it and threw over the first baseman’s head, allowing Pena to advance to third.

It was the fifth sacrifice bunt of the season for the Braves, the fewest in a league that had three teams, including the Giants, with 16 or more sac bunts before Sunday. Heyward followed with a sacrifice fly and the Braves had tied the score by capitalizing on an opportunity and manufacturing a run, two things they have done so rarely of late.

But then they did something that’s been a daily occurrence in the series – fell behind again in the next inning.

Crawford’s fourth-inning homer on Wood’s 1-2 pitch with two outs made it three consecutive games in which the Giants regained the lead with a solo homer in the inning after the Braves scored a tying run.

The Braves had a chance to tie it again in the fifth inning, after Chris Johnson led off with a single. Uggla drove a ball that briefly looked like it might get out, but was caught by Michael Morse leaping just in front of the left field wall.

Extended version of this story is available at MyAJC.com or by clickingthis link.

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