The free-falling Braves added more ignominy to their crumbling season Sunday with a 8-4 loss to the Nationals that gave them their longest single-season losing streak in 38 years and left them 0-for-Washington for 2015.
Rookie starter Manny Banuelos recorded only six outs and was charged with seven runs (six earned) for the Braves, whose 12-game losing streak is their longest within one season since they dropped 17 straight early in the 1977 season. They also lost 12 in a row from Oct. 3, 1987, through April 16, 1988.
Nick Markakis doubled to start the game and scored on Nick Swisher’s two-out single for a 1-0 Braves lead, but the Nationals scored five runs in the second inning, including Jayson Werth’s three-run homer.
“Never seen anything like this,” said Braves catcher A.J. Pierzynski. “Just keep battling, come tomorrow and try to win.”
The Braves had a chance to do more damage in the first inning, but Adonis Garcia grounded out to end the inning with runners at second and third. Garcia also struck out with a runner at second to end the fifth inning, making him 1-for-29 with runners in scoring position, including 0-for-19 with two outs.
The 30-year-old rookie also made a fielding error at third base in the third inning, Garcia’s sixth error in his past 12 games. His error came immediately after center fielder Michael Bourn temporarily lost a ball in the sun and then had it bounce out of his glove for an error.
“We’ve gotten a lot of people on base throughout this losing streak, but you have to have somebody drive them in,” said manager Fredi Gonzalez, whose Braves lost all 10 games this season at Nationals Park. “We haven’t had that person consistently drive those runs in.
“But today we played sloppy. We lost a ball in the sun that led to a big inning. We had a (misplayed) ground ball that led to a run. Even Manny didn’t help himself when he gets the pitcher (Joe Ross in a 1-2 count), then he hits him on 3-2 with a fastball in.”
Banuelos (1-4) faced two batters in the third and was charged with two more runs, including Bryce Harper’s leadoff homer, his third in three games and sixth against the Braves this season. Werth homered after Banuelos hit Ross with two outs.
The fourth-place Braves remained one game ahead of the last-place Philadelphia in the National League East standings and will face the Phillies in a three-game road series beginning Monday night.
Rookie Matt Wisler, who’d been scheduled to start Tuesday, instead pitched two hitless innings of relief, allowing one walk and one hit batter with two strikeouts. Gonzalez said he’ll announce a Tuesday starter on Monday.
The Braves are 3-13 against the Nationals with only three games left against them at Turner Field. The home sweep was the first time the Nationals or their previous incarnation, the Montreal Expos, swept a season series at home against any division opponent since Montreal went 5-0 against the Phillies in a strike-shortened 1981 season.
Before Monday, the last time the Braves were swept by an opponent in nine or more road games was 1990, when they went 0-9 against the Astros in Houston.
The Braves, after trades and injuries, have become the worst team in the majors in the second half. They already assured themselves of a losing season when they recorded their 82nd loss on Saturday, their fourth losing season in a quarter-century and first consecutive losing seasons since 97-loss seasons in 1989-1990.
They have lost 19 out of 20 games and have an awful 12-41 record since their 42-42 start, including 26 losses in 28 road games during that span beginning July 8 at Milwaukee. They have a 13-game road losing skid that includes sweeps in four series.
Banuelos faced the Nationals for the first time since his auspicious MLB debut July 2, when he allowed two hits and no walks in 5 2/3 innings and got no decision in a Braves win against the Nationals at Turner Field. Since then, the left-hander is 1-3 with a 6.53 ERA in six games (five starts). He’s been charged with 10 runs (nine earned) and 11 hits allowed in 4 2/3 innings of two starts since spending five weeks on the disabled list for inflammation in his surgically repaired elbow.
“I’ve been trying to work on things in my mechanics and all that,” Banuelos said. “I’m just thinking too much. In the first inning I was just letting it go, then when I got in trouble in the second inning I tried to be too perfect with pitches.”
He threw 31 pitches in the second inning and continued the alarming trend of Braves pitchers giving up two-out hits and runs. After hitting the pitcher Ross, Banuelos got ahead of Werth on a called first strike before throwing three balls and giving up a three-run homer on an 89-mph fastball.
“I don’t know if his arm is 100 percent healthy,” Braves catcher A.J. Pierzynski said.
Banuelos indicated that his arm wasn’t back to its pre-Tommy John surgery state, but that he’s pitched with it as it is now for some time and had success earlier this season.
“He’s a little bit limited obviously with his pitch count and all that stuff, trying to build that back up,” Pierzynski said. “I don’t know. He had a hard time throwing off-speed pitches for strikes today. Behind in the count a lot. The first inning was positive, then after that it kind of got away from him.”
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