PHILADELPHIA – The Braves can probably reach their goals of winning the division and advancing deep in the postseason even if Kris Medlen never pitches well against the Phillies.
It’s questionable, however, whether they can accomplish all that if they continue to play so poorly on the road.
The Phillies did two-out damage against Medlen and scored seven runs in the first six innings of a 7-3 series-clinching win on a steamy Sunday at Citizens Bank Park, handing the Braves their eighth loss in 11 road games and cutting their National League East lead to four games over second-place Washington.
With just one road-series win in the past eight weeks, the Braves have the unusual distinction of owning the majors’ best home record (29-13) and ranking in the bottom half on the road (21-25).
“I can’t really put my finger on it at all,” said catcher Brian McCann, who continued his resurgence with a three-hit day to give him an eight-game hitting streak, nine hits in the series, and a .512 average (22-for-43) with six doubles, three homers and 11 RBIs in 11 games. “We play really good baseball at home, and obviously we need to start playing better on the road.”
Medlen (6-8) was charged with eight hits, three walks and career-highs of seven runs and six earned runs in 5-1/3 innings as his three-start winning streak ended in humble fashion.
“You play this game long enough, you’re going to have days like this where you get your (butt) kicked,” he said.
The Braves had the majors’ third-best road record (46-35) in 2012, and bolted to a 7-0 road start this season. Since then they are 14-25 on the road.
“I don’t have any theory,” said Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez, whose Braves are 9-17 with a 4.18 ERA in their past 26 road games, compared to 21-8 with a 2.56 ERA in their past 29 home games. “We hit first on the road and wear a different color uniform. Other than that, I couldn’t tell you. To win divisions, championship teams have to play (well) both places, on the road and at home.”
Four hits against Medlen came with two outs, including Domonic Brown’s RBI triple in the two-run first inning and Ben Revere’s two-run triple in the fourth. Brown also hit his 23rd home run, a solo shot in the fifth.
In addition to an ERA that’s nearly 1-1/2 runs higher on the road, another bugaboo for the Braves has been hitting with runners in scoring position. After a 19-hit outburst in Saturday’s 13-4 win that included seven hits with runners in scoring position, the Braves reverted to form Sunday by going 2-for-13 with runners in scoring position.
They had runners at second and third with none out in the fifth inning against Phillies starter Jonathan Pettibone (5-3), who proceeded to strike out both B.J. Upton and Chris Johnson. Upton complained about the called third strike and was ejected by home-plate umpire Doug Eddings after returning to the dugout.
It was the third ejection of the series for the Braves, after catcher Gerald Laird and Gonzalez were tossed Friday by umpire Angel Hernandez after Laird argued a called third strike.
“B.J. didn’t say very much, to be honest with you,” Gonzalez said. “For him to get thrown out from the dugout — I was standing right next to him. I don’t know if there was a conversation during the at-bat that might have prompted that, but it wasn’t for what was said from the dugout.”
The tone of the game was set early, when Chase Utley hit a two-out single in the first inning and Brown followed with a triple on an 0-2 fastball for a 1-0 lead. One walk later, Delmon Young singled to drive in another run.
The last two runs charged to Medlen scored on a wild pitch by reliever Alex Wood and McCann’s throwing error on the same play. Medlen had allowed a walk, a single and a sacrifice to start the sixth before Wood entered.
Medlen has a 5.82 ERA in 15 games against the Phillies, including 1-2 with a 5.40 ERA in four starts. He’s 0-2 with a 6.97 ERA in two starts against them this season, and 6-6 with a 3.08 ERA in 16 starts vs. everyone else.
“I always get very frustrated facing this team,” Medlen said, “and it’s because they’re a quality team, a team that knows how to win. For me, I feel like I have to be perfect when I face this team. They’ve got some guys that, I think, like hitting against me.”