Braves continue struggling with runners in scoring position in loss

Atlanta Braves' Ronald Acuna Jr. slides safely into third base during the third inning of a baseball game against the Cincinnati Reds in Cincinnati, Saturday, June 26, 2021. (AP Photo/Aaron Doster)

Credit: AP

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Atlanta Braves' Ronald Acuna Jr. slides safely into third base during the third inning of a baseball game against the Cincinnati Reds in Cincinnati, Saturday, June 26, 2021. (AP Photo/Aaron Doster)

Credit: AP

The Braves are 4-5 in their past nine games, and given their production in prime scoring opportunities over that time, they’re fortunate to have that record.

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The team’s struggles with runners in scoring position continued Saturday, and the Braves lost 4-1 in Cincinnati. They’ve lost two of the first three in the series and will try to salvage a split Sunday.

Since last weekend’s doubleheader against the Cardinals, the Braves were 6-for-44 (.136) with runners in scoring position over their past eight games. That didn’t improve Saturday: They went 1-for-8 in such situations and left 10 stranded on base overall. Since scoring 16 runs across two games against the Red Sox during the last homestand, the Braves have scored more than four runs once in 11 games.

The Braves are averaging two runs per game in their past nine contests. They haven’t scored more than three runs in a game since June 18.

“We’re just having a hard time stringing together hits,” manager Brian Snitker said. “All the balls that we’re hitting hard are being caught. ... It’s just been a lot of balls hit really hard, and (we) can’t keep the line moving. We’re making good contact here and there.

“In all my years, I’ve never figured out how to rectify it. It’s just one of those things. You have to keep having good at-bats, keep hitting the ball hard. You can’t direct it. And hopefully it falls.”

Reds starting pitcher Luis Castillo, who’s had a tough season but has looked improved lately, allowed six hits over seven scoreless innings. The Braves’ only run came from Guillermo Heredia’s two-out hit off former Brave Brad Brach in the eighth.

The offense had chances early. The Braves led off the second with consecutive singles by Austin Riley and Dansby Swanson. Castillo retired the next three with groundouts, leaving the Braves empty-handed.

Reds 4, Braves 1 (box score)

Ronald Acuna doubled with one out in the next inning. Freddie Freeman drew a walk. Castillo retired Ozzie Albies on a flyout. Riley then smoked a ball that was hit right at third baseman Eugenio Suarez to end the inning.

That’s been the Braves’ luck all season. The hardest-hit balls are lasered into gloves. The prime scoring opportunities often don’t result in anything more than frustration. That’s why, with the season almost halfway complete, the Braves are 36-40 and have spent much of their time in press conferences discussing the expectation of a surge that hasn’t come.

“It’s frustrating,” Riley said. “I feel like we’ve been putting up really good at-bats. Just barreling a lot of balls right at people. The one today on me, (runners on) first and third, line drive to third base. What can you do? You just got to keep going out there and putting up good at-bats. Just keep fighting.”

Combined ShapeCaption
Atlanta Braves' Ian Anderson throws during the first inning of a baseball game against the Cincinnati Reds in Cincinnati, Saturday, June 26, 2021. (AP Photo/Aaron Doster)

Credit: AP

Atlanta Braves' Ian Anderson throws during the first inning of a baseball game against the Cincinnati Reds in Cincinnati, Saturday, June 26, 2021. (AP Photo/Aaron Doster)

Credit: AP

Combined ShapeCaption
Atlanta Braves' Ian Anderson throws during the first inning of a baseball game against the Cincinnati Reds in Cincinnati, Saturday, June 26, 2021. (AP Photo/Aaron Doster)

Credit: AP

Credit: AP

Braves starting pitcher Ian Anderson allowed three runs over six innings. He surrendered a homer to Jesse Winker on a low change-up in the first inning. The Reds struck twice with two outs in the third, with Nick Castellanos’ double and Joey Votto’s single scoring an additional two runs.

Anderson finished his outing retiring the last 10 Reds in order (five via strikeout). He was followed by Shane Greene, who pitched a perfect seventh, and Edgar Santana, who surrendered a pinch-hit homer to Tyler Stephenson in the eighth.

The Braves and Reds finish their series Sunday. The Braves could complete a 4-4 trip with a win, having split series in Queens and Cincinnati. Lefty Kyle Muller will make his second career start against Reds right-hander Tyler Mahle.