Over the course of a 162-game major league season, even the best teams are bound to suffer through a couple of stinkers -- sometimes, even stringing a few of them together.
The Braves, who with well over half a season in the books, certainly appear to have all the makings of one of the National League’s better teams this season, suffered through just such a stinker Tuesday night in Milwaukee, and found themselves stuck in the rut again Wednesday afternoon, losing 5-4 to the Brewers in the series finale at Miller Park.
“It's going to happen,” Braves manager Brian Snitker said. “We’re a really good ballclub, but you're going to go through stretches and you’re going to have games like this. We're playing some good competition. This is a good ballclub. They're the kind of team that can go on a run and win 15 of 20.”
Making his sixth start for the Braves, Dallas Kuechel went 5-2/3 innings and surrendered five runs (four earned) on six hits and a pair of walks, striking out five.
Keuchel’s four earned runs marked a season high for the veteran left-hander, who signed with the Braves on June 7 and made his 2019 debut two weeks later. Wednesday also marked the first time in three starts that he failed to go at least seven innings.
“I usually do a pretty good job of making sure I’m ready to go,” Keuchel said. “Three days after All-Star break, coming from San Diego where there was less humidity and less heat ... I wanted to get outside for a few days to get used to the heat and humidity. I felt good today starting, but it was just one of those times I'd like to take back. Even throwing up zeroes in the fourth and fifth, I felt really fortunate to get out of there unscathed.”
An error by third baseman Josh Donaldson to open the second inning came back to bite Keuchel when he missed his mark on a 1-0 cutter to the next batter, catcher Manny Pina, who belted it to left field for his fifth home run of the season, giving the Brewers a 2-0 lead.
Keuchel (3-3) settled in after that, facing the minimum through the fifth before Christian Yelich hit a one-out, solo shot -- his second in as many games and his MLB-leading 34th of the season -- in the sixth to make the score 3-0.
The Brewers tacked on two more runs, thanks to an RBI double by rookie second baseman Keston Huira -- who went 8-for-11 with three doubles, a triple, a home run and four RBIs during the series -- and Pina’s run-scoring single that brought Keuchel's day to an end.
“I was kind of teetering on the edge there for a while and was fortunate to get to the sixth,” Keuchel said. “I felt like I didn't have too good of command of my fastball. I was behind on a lot of guys after the third and just couldn't corral it together in the sixth. I just kind of ran out of gas and turned a close game into an extended vacation. I’d like to have that sixth inning back. I felt really good coming into the game so that was a little bit of a shocker.”
Milwaukee starter Chase Anderson (5-2) held the Braves to one hit -- a two-out double in the second by catcher Brian McCann -- over 5-2/3 scoreless innings. Anderson walked three and struck out three more to earn his first victory since June 27.
“He did a pretty good job mixing his pitches,” Donaldson said. “We hit some balls pretty hard and had some opportunities but he was able to make the right pitch at the right time.”
Donaldson provided most of the pop for the Braves’ offense. He put the Braves on the board with a two-run, eighth inning homer off Junior Guerra then got his team within a run with a two-run, two-out double of Josh Hader in the ninth.
“We had our opportunities, getting guys on base, and we brought the go-ahead run to the plate (in the ninth inning),” Snitker said. “It just happens.”
The home run was Donaldson’s 22nd of the season and snapped an 11-inning scoring drought for the Braves’ offense, which managed nine runs during the three-game series, while the pitching staff gave up 20 -- including 18 over the final two games.
“They did a pretty good job of executing their pitches the entire series,” Donaldson said.
The Braves hadn’t been shut out since a 9-0 loss at Dodger Stadium on May 7 and hadn’t lost consecutive games since falling to the Mets and Phillies on June 30 and July 2, respectively.
Overall, the Braves had won 25 of their past 34 games and grew their lead over the rest of the NL East to as many as 7-1/2 games during that stretch. The Braves will lead by no less than 5-1/2 games when they take the field Thursday night at SunTrust Park to open a four-game weekend series with the second-place Nationals.
“We just have to go home, regroup and try to win another series starting tomorrow,” Snitker said. “This will be another big series, but until you clinch the division, they're all big series.”
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