Braves offense quiet again in loss to Marlins

Freddie Freeman extended his bat past the plate’s boundary attempting to hit Wei-Yin Chen’s 86 mph slider, the fourth pitch of a strikeout that finished the third inning. It was as ugly a swing as one will see from the Braves’ MVP candidate first baseman.

That sums up the last two nights for this Braves offense. A collection of bats that was muffled by Dan Straily Friday, then looked equally astounded by Chen in Saturday’s 3-1 loss.

“The last couple days, we just haven’t been able to string anything together,” said Dansby Swanson, whose solo homer in the ninth provided the Braves’ only run. “A combination of that is us not swinging the way we’re capable of. But at the same time, there’s obviously a reason for that. You can give credit where it’s due. (The Marlins) have thrown the ball well lately.”

The offense has produced three or fewer runs in seven of the last nine. Not a cause for concern just yet – they’ve still found ways to win and remain in first place – but a missed chance to further build on their National League East positioning.

Miami is playing for nothing more than pride and draft status, but when the chance came to increase a lead of its own, it did so. Brian Anderson pulverized a baseball over left-center to increase the Marlins’ advantage from one to three in the seventh.

The Braves had four hits through five innings, two courtesy of Ronald Acuna. The 20-year-old had a leadoff single, a double and walked in the fifth. He’s had nine straight games with an at-bat where he’s produced an extra-base hit against the Marlins.

The Phillies and Nationals lost earlier in the afternoon. There was an opportunity presented to extend the Braves’ grasp on first place. They wiffed, as they did 10 times against Chen.

Chen was masterful, piling up strikeouts and avoiding sticky situations. The lefty kept them off balance, not once letting consecutive Braves reach base. He left with a 1-0 lead thanks to Rafael Ortega’s triple and J.T. Realmuto’s sacrifice fly.

“That’s as good as he’s thrown against us, I know that,” Snitker said.

Braves starter Anibal Sanchez was mostly solid in his own right, allowing two hits through five innings. He didn’t have the luxury of an offense, which left him little room to work.

Following Realmuto’s RBI in the sixth, Derek Dietrich singled, Starlin Castro flew out and JT Riddle walked. Trainer George Poulis and manager Brian Snitker came out to check on Sanchez, who was removed with two on and two out.

The team said he left with right-hamstring tightness. Snitker felt it could’ve been more a product of dehydration because it was more tight than pulled. Sanchez said that was a possibility but he couldn’t determine exactly what hit him.

“I tried to figure it out,” Sanchez said. “... Just something with my hamstring.”

Making matters worse, Sanchez could’ve been lifted for a pinch-hitter in the top of the frame. The Braves had runners at first and second with two out, their best scoring chance of the night, but Snitker opted to let Sanchez hit. The pitcher struck out, then served the go-ahead run before leaving two outs later.

“I figured he was right there, we had the top of the order coming up,” Snitker said. “I was looking to get two more innings out of him, not one. He was just throwing so good I rolled the dice. Just on the rest of our offense getting going because I figured Chen would be out of the game and we’d get something going offensively.”

The seventh inning was one of almosts. Johan Camargo’s would-be homer glided outside of the right-field foul pole. The at-bat became a strikeout. Freeman tried to expand a two-out single into a double. He became the final out of the inning.

And just afterwards, Anderson dealt the final blow. The Braves prevented a shutout with Swanson’s towering homer in the ninth.

The Braves will attempt to salvage a split at Marlins Park on Sunday with Kevin Gausman on the mound. It will conclude a stretch in which the team played 22 games in 20 days, and a win would complete a 5-2 road trip.

“I think the easiest way to break it down is to look at it as we try to win each series,” Swanson said. “So if we come out here and win tomorrow, we’d even the series up, which is obviously a big thing, especially to do it on the road. So we’ll take it day by day. That’s what’s led us to this point now.”