Braves walk their way to third straight loss, magic number decreases anyway

Credit: Mike Zarrilli

Credit: Mike Zarrilli

When the Braves went to St. Louis in a series spanning late May and early June, the Cardinals were in disarray. The Braves swept, outscoring the Cardinals 22-10 while their starters posted a collective 0.00 ERA.

These aren’t those same Red Birds.

St. Louis was reinvigorated after a managerial change, leaping into wild-card position. And those same Braves that dragged them through the mud over four months ago were slapped with the opposite fate Monday.

The Cardinals beat up Mike Foltynewicz as concern for the Braves’ home mediocrity – and walking bonanza - increased after their third straight loss, 11-6.

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The Braves go from Herculean efforts on the road (45-30) to pedestrian results at SunTrust Park (38-37), owning the worst home record among National League playoff contenders.

“Just goes down to early on, the walks, the walks, the walks,” said manager Brian Snitker, whose team has issued 39 walks in five games. “They all score. That’s the big thing. Hopefully it’s a stretch we’re going through and we right ourselves and go on a run again. We’ve done it time and time again this year, where things aren’t going good and they have a way of rebounding and turning it around.”

As for Foltynewicz, the probable postseason ace was haunted by walks – a recurring theme of the homestand – and issued three in the first inning before hitting Yadier Molina. Kolten Wong lasered a double for a three-run first-inning lead.

Fighting for their postseason lives, the Cardinals didn’t let up. Freddie Freeman’s homer pulled the Braves within one, but Wong answered with a long ball of his own. Paul Dejong’s two-run bomb in the fifth made it 6-2.

The Braves are rarely out of a game, to their credit. They clawed back to a two-run deficit before Jesse Biddle issued back-to-back two-out walks, setting up Harrison Bader’s three-run homer that put it out of reach. The home team walked seven, five of which scored.

Yet still, Freddie Freeman stepped into the box with the bases loaded, down three in the eighth. But he struck out, slamming his helmet in frustration. Molina homered to put it away in the ninth.

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“I didn’t get the job done,” an unusually stoic Freeman said. Such is life for the Braves in recent days.

After a brilliant complete game in San Francisco, Foltynewicz crashed. He’d been exception in August, pitching to a 2.09 ERA in six starts. That trickled into September, when he’d allowed one run each in his first two starts.

Monday marked the second time since Aug. 1 that Foltynewicz allowed more than three runs. The All-Star is presumed as the team’s game 1 starter in the postseason, and while that’s still likely the case, his latest showing gives reason for concern.

“With the walks, I just put my team down 3-0 early,” Foltynewicz said. “It’s hard to come back against them, especially with (Miles Mikolas) on the mound. I just have to be better.”

The erratic control that’s plagued Foltynewicz in the past returned. He struggled hitting his spots. He required 87 pitches to survive 4-2/3 innings.

He posted just two strikeouts, his lowest total of the season. The two homers tied for the most he’s permitted in a start, yet he hadn’t done so since July 27 – in fact, he’d allowed only three homers across August and September combined. His four walks were his most since June 25.

“When you’re not throwing strikes, it’s a red flag for the other team to stay patient,” Foltynewicz said. “That’s what everyone’s done to us this whole week.”

Foltynewicz has two scheduled starts remaining, and they’ll be vital: Both are against the Phillies, who are clinging to a small bit of hope in the NL East. The Braves’ inability to win at SunTrust Park is about all that’s keeping their rivals alive.

The loss notwithstanding, the Braves inched closer to a postseason berth. The Phillies squandered another chance to gain ground, losing to the Mets. The Nationals, whose season is on life support, lost to the dreadful Marlins.

The Braves hold a 6.5-game lead in the East with a magic number of seven, even if the mood was anything but glowing in the clubhouse.

“We’re in a rut,” Snitker said. “It’s things you go through. We just have to work through it.”