The Braves loaded the bases with one out in the first inning, then Evan Gattis and Chris Johnson both struck out — on sliders in the dirt — to leave them loaded.
Stop me if you’ve heard this one before.
The day after being no-hit by Cole Hamels and three Philadelphia relievers, Atlanta’s offense remained in desultory mode Tuesday in a 4-0 loss to the Phillies that extended the Braves’ scoreless streak to 24 innings. Desultory trending toward comatose, with one run scored in the past 36 innings.
“It’s not real pretty to watch right now,” said manager Fredi Gonzalez, whose Braves are 1-3 with one run scored in their past four games. He called their offensive ineptitude “mind boggling.”
One of the smallest crowds of the year — officially 19,444, but fewer actually in attendance — turned out to see one of the least compelling performances the Braves have produced this season.
They remained 1 1/2 games behind Milwaukee and for the second National League wild-card spot, while the Braves fell to 7 1/2 games behind first-place Washington in the NL East, pending the outcome of the Nationals’ late game. Atlanta has totaled just 33 runs while going 6-7 in its past 13 games despite a stingy 2.36 ERA in that span.
“We are in a funk,” Gonzalez said. “We need to go out and score some runs here in the next couple of games.”
Mike Minor (6-9) turned in his fifth consecutive solid start for the Braves, allowing seven hits, three runs and two walks with five strikeouts in 7 1/3 innings. Good enough to win most nights, but not during this Braves offensive malaise.
“I feel like this has been the year of that, a year for us letting down our pitching staff,” said Johnson, who struck out with bases loaded and also grounded into an inning-ending double play. “In my mind, I feel like every time we lose it’s a three-run game or something like that where our pitchers go out and give a quality start and the next thing you know they’re leaving with a loss. It stinks. It stinks as an offense. It’s not fun at all.
“For me, it’s hard to look those (Braves pitchers) in the face. What are you going to say? Sorry?”
After stranding two runners in the first inning of Monday’s 7-0, no-hit loss, the Braves stranded three in the opening inning Tuesday, failing to score after Jason Heyward led off with a double and Kyle Kendrick (8-11) walked Freddie Freeman with one out and hit the next batter, Justin Upton.
Upton stayed in the game for five innings before leaving with a left-triceps contusion. He’s listed as day-to-day.
The health of the Braves’ offense would have to be classified as something more serious. Dire does not seem like an overstatement. They have three hits and no runs in the first two games of this series, and one run in their past four games.
“I thought Minor was outstanding,” Gonzalez said. “He gave up three runs in 7-1/3 innings. Up and down the lineup we are just not … we are a talented club. Offensively, we are a talented club. We can put up some numbers but to get shut out in back-to-back days and three out of four days and only score one run in the only game we won in the last four, it’s mind-boggling. You guys cover it like I see it every day. We are a talented group of guys and we just aren’t getting any runs. We are not moving the line. We are not putting the ball in play when we have to. It’s just frustrating.”
Johnson said earlier this week that the Braves couldn’t afford to get frustrated because that would lead to playing tense. He was asked how it felt now after the Braves were held to three hits and shut out for the third time in four games.
“Frustrated. Tense,” he said, managing to smile before giving a serious assessment: “It stinks right now. Not only for me personally but for the team as well. It’s tough. We’ve got a lot of guys struggling and we’re losing. It’s a lot easier to deal with yourself struggling if you’re winning ballgames. But we’re just not clicking at all offensively.”
After the first inning, they didn’t get another runner to second base until Heyward doubled to start the sixth. That was the final hit for the Braves against Kendrick, who had a 6.59 ERA and .299 opponents’ average in his previous 10 starts.
Although Kendrick had plenty of success against the Braves early in his career, the right-hander was 2-3 with a 6.17 ERA in his past seven starts against them before Tuesday, including 1-2 with a 5.40 ERA in three this season.
Carlos Ruiz hit a leadoff homer in the fifth inning, and the Phillies pushed the lead to 2-0 in the sixth on Darin Ruf’s two-out RBI single. The final run charged to Minor scored on Ruiz’s double in the eighth off Anthony Varvaro, who gave up a single, double and sacrifice fly to the first three batters he faced to extend the lead to 4-0.
Minor said he didn’t think the Braves’ offensive woes had put added pressure on Atlanta pitchers.
“Because I don’t really think that affects our job,” he said. “We’re still going to go out there and try to get everybody out. So, for me personally, I don’t really feel any pressure. I just feel like if you do your job, we’ll come around. We have good hitters going to the plate every time. So … I don’t know. We’re kind of a streaky team, I guess. I don’t know any other way to put it.”
The Braves’ failure to score after either Heyward leadoff double provided more examples of issues that have plagued their offense throughout the season.
Andrelton Simmons grounded out to the shortstop after Heyward’s double in the first inning, advancing Heyward to third, and Simmons grounded out to short again after sixth-inning double. Freddie Freeman walked after the Simmons grounded out in the first inning, and Freeman walked again after Simmons grounded out in the sixth.
But instead of loading the bases again in the sixth, the Braves stranded runners at first and second when Ryan Doumit (who replaced Upton) popped out foul to the catcher and Gattis grounded out.
The Braves’ average with runners in scoring position and two outs sunk another point, from .196 to .195, second-lowest in the National League.
They had only two runners reach base between the first and sixth innings, each erased by a double play as Kendrick faced the minimum 12 batters in that four-inning stretch. After Simmons singled in the third, he was out trying to steal second on an inning-ending strike ‘em out, throw ‘em out double play with Freeman whiffing.
Gattis was hit by a pitch in the fourth, and Johnson grounded into an inning-ending double play on the next pitch. It was the fourth double play he’s grounded into in seven games and 22nd this season, tied for second-most in the NL.
Gonzalez was asked if he thought Braves pitchers were frustrated by the lack of run support.
“I don’t think they are frustrated,” he said. “They keep going out there and throwing zeros or very minimal damage. That’s what we are supposed to do whether we score 15 or not score 15, the pitching staff is supposed to do its job. And they have been, pretty much all year. I know that (hitting coaches Greg Walker and Scott Fletcher) and the whole coaching staff scratch our heads, put lineups and all kinds of stuff together and right now we are in a funk.”
Minor is 2-2 with a 2.52 ERA and .190 opponents’ average in five starts since having his rotation turned skipped in early August. The Braves scored a total of three runs during the 22 innings he was in the games during the three he didn’t win during that stretch.
Before having his turn skipped, Minor was 2-3 with a 7.33 ERA and .357 opponents’ average in his previous 10 starts.
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