Braves lose to Giants again; NL East lead shrinks to one game

Atlanta Braves' Charlie Morton pitches against the San Francisco Giants during the first inning of a baseball game in San Francisco, Saturday, Sept. 18, 2021. (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu)
Caption
Atlanta Braves' Charlie Morton pitches against the San Francisco Giants during the first inning of a baseball game in San Francisco, Saturday, Sept. 18, 2021. (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu)

Credit: Jeff Chiu

Credit: Jeff Chiu

SAN FRANCISCO – The Braves’ west-coast struggles persisted in a 2-0 loss to the Giants in California on Saturday. And their division lead continues to shrink.

Here are five takeaways from Saturday:

1. Much has been made of the Braves’ lack of punch in extra innings. Lately, it hasn’t just been in the additional frames. The Braves went 1-for-5 with runners in scoring position, stifled by seven Giants pitchers (including former Brave Alex Wood, who started and covered three innings). The Braves are 4-for-26 with runners in scoring position over their last three games.

“It’s just one of those things you have to battle through,” manager Brian Snitker said. “There’s no formula for it. There’s no secret. Sometimes you get on a roll, you get those two-out hits, you’re driving runs in. Then you go through ruts where it doesn’t happen. I wish I knew (a way for it not to happen), but it does. Over the course of a long season, it’s going to happen to you more than once and you just have to battle your way through it, man. You just have to keep going up there. We hit some balls hard, just couldn’t get anything to show for it.”

2. Outfielder Jorge Soler had a near homer pulled back into the park by Giants center fielder Steven Duggar’s glove to open the fourth. Leaping over the wall, Duggar couldn’t secure the ball but knocked it back into the field of play. First baseman Freddie Freeman followed with a single to left, putting runners at the corners with none out.

Third baseman Austin Riley then struck out on a foul tip. He argued the ball hit him but the Braves lost the challenge. Outfielder Adam Duvall struck out on three pitches. Catcher Travis d’Arnaud went down in five. A prime scoring opportunity was extinguished.

Another way the Braves knew it wasn’t their night: Soler drew a lead-off walk to open the sixth. Freeman hit a 102-mph liner that went right to first baseman Brandon Belt, who tagged Soler and recorded a double play.

“That’s the difference in these tough games like this,” Snitker said. “It’s a pitch. It’s a hit. Inches. Freddie’s ball, if it’s over his head, it’s down the line and probably scores a run.”

3. Braves starter Charlie Morton was off his A-game, battling through five innings. He allowed two runs on four hits, walked three and struck out three. He also hit two batters. Morton threw 97 pitches (51 strikes).

Morton failed to cover six or more innings for just the third time in his last 10 starts. He’d logged consecutive seven-inning outings before Saturday.

“I just never got into my delivery,” Morton said. “Some really weird pitches. Some really big misses and a lot of luck. So that’s how I feel about (the start).”

The Giants scored twice in the fourth after Morton issued a lead-off walk to LaMonte Wade and saw Brandon Crawford follow with a single. Mike Yastrzemski placed a perfect sacrifice bunt to set up Curt Casali’s soft single that landed between first base and right field, scoring the runners.

Morton walked two and hit a batter in his final inning but escaped unscathed. It was far from his best showing, but Morton kept the Braves within striking distance.

4. With Saturday’s defeat, the Braves dropped to 2-7 against the National League West on the road. They were swept in Los Angeles and split a four-game series in Colorado last month. They dropped the first two of this weekend’s series and are in danger of being swept Sunday.

It’s not an exaggeration to say the Braves’ postseason hopes will be decided by whether they can solve what ails them out west. They have one more against the Giants on Sunday, face the 100-loss Diamondbacks for four games in Phoenix, then finish their road trip with four games (one a resumption of a suspended contest) in San Diego. Meanwhile, the second-place Phillies will play a seven-game homestand against the Orioles and Pirates, two of the worst teams in the majors.

5. The Braves’ NL East lead is down to one game after the Phillies defeated the Mets. The Phillies have won four straight while the Braves have dropped four consecutive contests. It’s the Braves’ smallest division lead since Aug. 15.

“I don’t really think (the clubhouse’s mood is) different than it was,” Morton said. “We were basically in a deadlock for four months of the season and playing behind. So I really don’t think the challenges are any different in a bad way. If anything, I think we’re still in a good spot. This is going to happen. We’re going to play really good baseball and we did. We put ourselves in a really good spot. And now, we just have to right the ship.”

Giants 2, Braves 0 (box score)

Stat to know

6-9 (The Braves are 6-9 in September with a maximum of 16 games remaining.)

Quotable

“These guys have always (rebounded). They always have. So I don’t know why they won’t now. This team is capable of going out and starting a four or five-game winning streak tomorrow.” - Snitker

Streak extended

Outfielder Adam Duvall extended his career-best hitting streak to 14 games with a single in the ninth inning Saturday.

Up next

The Braves and Giants finish their series Sunday when Max Fried (11-7, 3.47) faces Anthony DeSclafani (12-6, 3.24).

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