The nadir in a season turned dismal for the Braves came Sunday with a 20-6 loss to the New York Yankees at Turner Field.
Or maybe not.
They seem capable of sinking further still, after being swept at home this week by the Miami Marlins, then getting rocked Thursday night by the Washington Nationals 15-1 in the opener of a four-game series at Nationals Park, where the Braves thrived not too long ago.
Rookie starter Matt Wisler was charged with seven runs and failed to make it out of the second inning, the 14-run winning margin was the largest in Nationals history (since 2005), and Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez publicly voiced his frustration with the young pitching staff for the first time all season.
“The stuff that we’ve been seeing, it’s really unacceptable,” said Gonzalez, whose Braves have lost 16 of 17 and been outscored 82-20 during a nine-game skid in which they’ve posted an 8.55 ERA. “Guys (pitchers) are professional. Major leaguers. Some of these guys have a lot of years playing in the minor leagues. And for them to get hit around like that, it’s not really acceptable….
“Our coaching staff is patient, but sooner or later, let’s go. Let’s do something to get somebody out. That’s the message, really. Maybe I sound frustrated myself, because you sit there and watch the stuff day-in and day-out…. (Pitching coach) Roger (McDowell) beats his head into the ground every single day with these guys. We’ve got to get over that stuff.”
The Braves have a 10-game road losing streak and have won just 12 of 50 games since their 42-42 start. They have a staggering 2-23 record on the road in that span, going back to a July 8 loss at Milwaukee, when they had a 5-3 lead until Carlos Gomez’s three-run homer in the eighth inning off Luis Avilan.
They fell behind 10-1 in the first three innings Thursday on the way to their 10th loss in 13 games against the Nationals this season. The Braves are 0-7 at Nationals Park.
The Braves are a full game behind third-place Miami and only one game ahead of last-place Philadelphia in the NL East. They are 14 1/2 behind the second-place Nationals.
The growing pains continued for young Braves pitchers, with Wisler (5-6) tagged for five hits, seven runs and three walks in 1 2/3 innings. Wisler is 0-5 with a 9.49 ERA in seven starts since the end of July, after going 5-1 with a 3.43 ERA in his first seven starts before August.
“Yeah, I’ve struggled for the last month now,” said Wisler, who’s given up 45 hits, 32 earned runs, eight homers and 18 walks in 30 1/3 innings during his winless streak. “There’s no real secret about that, I’ve really struggled. I felt good coming out of the bullpen, just didn’t get it done in the game.”
Meanwhile, Braves hitters mustered one run on two hits and four walks in six innings against Jordan Zimmermann (12-8), and got no hit in three innings against the Nationals’ bullpen. They were out-hit 18-2.
“We’ve got a group of guys in here who are going out and battling every single day,” Braves first baseman Freddie Freeman said, when asked about the growing frustration displayed by Gonzalez. “It’s not like we’re trying to give up runs or trying to only get two hits in a game. When things are going bad, they’re going bad. When we hit a ball hard, they go at someone. There’s a line drive to me that somehow goes off my glove instead of in my glove. It’s just one thing after another. A throw from (left fielder Nick) Swisher is just off by inches instead of right on it. You know, it’s just hard to pinpoint anything.
“We have 28 games left, all you can do is go out there and keep trying as hard as you possible can. Yeah, anyone can come off the street and try as hard as they can. We do get paid to do this, and we have to turn it around. Obviously we’re not going to make the playoffs, but as a group, there’s a lot of young guys in this clubhouse, see what you’re made of in these last 28 games by going out there and seeing what you can do instead of going out there and getting manhandled every single night. As a professional baseball player, that’s not what you want. You don’t come to the yard every day expecting to lose by 14, 15 runs every single day.”
The Braves have scored one run in 21 2/3 innings against Zimmermann in his past three starts against the Braves this season, and they needed a walk, a balk, a wild pitch and Hector Olivera’s groundout to to get it.
Swisher walked to start the second inning and scored when newcomer Olivera grounded out to short.
The Braves got their first hit on an A.J. Pierzynski single with one out in the fourth. They had two runners on base twice against Zimmermann, in the first and fifth innings, and each time Pierzynski grounded into an inning-ending double play.
Wisler left with two outs and the bases loaded in the second inning, the Nationals leading 5-1. Sugar Ray Marimon served up a two-run single to the next batter, former Braves infielder Yunel Escobar, before striking out Ian Desmond to end the inning.
“You go back and look at the tape – and we will in the morning – it’s a lot of 1-2 pitches over the plate, 0-2, ahead in the count, just not very good pitches,” Gonzalez said. “And I know for sure that a lot of the pitching coaches and managers that they’ve gone through in the minor leagues (have taught them a better two-strike approach than that). It’s not good. It hurts. Especially, there’s a way to lose, and today wasn’t one of those days. It leaves a bad taste in your mouth.”
Gonzalez seem to indicate there could be changes to the pitching staff when he added, “Let’s see what happens tomorrow.”
The Nationals sent 10 batters to the plate in the five-run second inning and nine in the three-run third. Left-hander Andrew McKirahan relieved Marimon with two out in the third and walked Bryce Harper before giving up a two-run single to Ryan Zimmerman and an RBI single to Clint Robinson.
McKirakan faced four batters and got no outs, allowing a walk and three consecutive singles before being replaced.
At that point the Braves had used three pitchers, all rookies, and they had given up a total of 10 runs, 11 hits, four walks and a hit batter while recording eight outs.
When asked if some young pitchers might possibly be showing signs of fatigue with the two-strike and two-out command issues, Gonzalez said, “I don’t know what it is, but if it’s fatigue, just suck it up. If we want to go in there and start bringing up every pitcher in the minor leagues. I’m sure there’s people out there that would like to take an opportunity at it. If it’s fatigue, work a little extra. Really, there’s no… You try to be calm and try to be patient, but sometimes there’s no excuses for that. Whether it’s fatigue or not. It’s not fatigue when you get two strikes. So I don’t buy that.”
Wisler is 2-5 with a 7.78 ERA in nine road starts, including 0-2 with a 17.47 ERA in two starts at Nationals Park, where he’s allowed 14 hits and 13 runs (11 earned) in 5 2/3 innings. The Nationals are the only team he’s faced more than once in his 14 major league starts, and he’s 1-2 with 9.00 ERA in three starts against them.
Atlanta’s bullpen is 29th in the majors with a 4.72 ERA, better than only Colorado (4.87). The Braves’ starting rotation is 25th in the majors with a 4.44 ERA after Thursday.
About the Author
Credit: Family contributed photo