When the Braves were winning 12 of their first 13 games, the pitching was dominant, the offensive flaws were offset by sheer might, and the bandwagon filled with folks rushing to shuffle power rankings and reconsider the favorites list for the National League pennant.
Now the Braves have dropped 15 of the past 24 games, including three consecutive ugly losses at San Francisco during a four-game series that ended with a 5-1 defeat Sunday at AT&T Park. The bandwagon is thinning and many are wondering what to expect from the erratic Braves for the next 4-1/2 months.
“We haven’t been pretty to watch the last three games,” manager Fredi Gonzalez said after the Braves were outscored 23-4 in the last three games and lost the series 3-1, leaving them clinging to a one-game lead over Washington in the NL East. “We haven’t been getting deep in the game with our pitching, and we haven’t been scoring runs.
“We haven’t been real fun to watch. But we’ve got a good club. They (Giants) are playing good baseball and every time we made a mistake or they’d get somebody on base, they captitalized. We haven’t been able to do that.”
Kris Medlen (1-5) was knocked around for eight hits, five runs (three earned), three homers and five walks in 5-1/3 innings, losing his fourth consecutive decision. He gave up solo homers to Brandon Belt (second inning), Pablo Sandoval (third) and Marco Scutaro (fifth). The Giants also scored a run shortly after a Dan Uggla error in the fourth inning and another run in the fifth on a ground-rule double by improbable emerging Atlanta nemesis Gregor Blanco, an ex-Brave.
“I picked a very bad day to have a bad day, with the way (Tim) Lincecum was throwing over there,” Medlen said.
Lincecum? The supposedly fading veteran who’d allowed 19 hits and 10 runs in 12 innings over his past two starts?
Yes, “the Freak” allowed just two hits and three walks with seven strikeouts in seven scoreless innings Sunday, and the Braves only averted a shutout when Evan Gattis hit a two-out, pinch-hit double in the ninth.
The Braves went 1-for-7 with runners in scoring position Sunday, including 0-for-3 in the first three innings, when they let Lincecum (3-2) off the hook. That gave the Giants a chance to build a lead, and he took advantage of Atlanta’s wasted opportunities and had his best start of the season — like plenty of other opposing pitchers.
“Obviously everybody knows his velo (velocity) has been down,” Braves left fielder Justin Upton said. “But as far as command and using his pitches and throwing strikes, today he was on it pretty good.”
Upton – 0-for-3 with runners in scoring position — conceded things might have been different if Braves hitters had come through when they had chances early. They had two on with one out in the first inning after a Ramiro Pena single and Brian McCann walk, but Upton struck out and Freddie Freeman lined out to end the inning.
In the third, Jordan Schafer singled with one out and stole second before Pena grounded out. McCann drew a another walk to put runners on the corners before Upton flied out to end the inning, stranding two again.
“I came up obviously with runners in scoring position and didn’t get the job done,” Upton said.
Upton also popped out to end the eighth inning with two runners on base, giving him six runners left on Sunday.
He went 0-for-4 with two strikeouts Sunday and is 8-for-42 (.190) with two extra-base hits in his past 13 games. Upton hasn’t homered in 14 games, after hitting 12 home runs in his first 24 games.
After usually batting with no runners on base when he was blazing, Upton is coming up with bases occupied now.
“That’s just the way our game is sometimes,” Gonzalez said. “It’s a pretty cruel game.”
Medlen was the third consecutive Braves starter to have a poor performance after a 10-game streak in which none did.
“Chalk it up to one of those days I literally had nothing,” said Medlen, who is 0-4 with a 4.70 ERA in his past five starts, allowing 36 hits, six home runs and 13 walks in 30-2/3 innings. This from a pitcher who allowed only six homers in 138 innings last season.