St. Louis — When the skidding Braves held voluntary early batting practice Wednesday at 2:30 p.m. at Busch Stadium, the entire team showed up.
They hit then and hit again during regular batting practice a few hours later, but they didn’t hit when it counted against the St. Louis Cardinals. Again.
Kenshin Kawakami didn’t make it out of the fifth inning and the lineup stayed punchless during a 6-0 Braves loss, the eighth consecutive defeat for a team most pundits expected to compete for the National League East title.
Maybe they still will; it’s a long season. But right now those projections seem way off-base for the reeling Braves, who are 8-13 in a division where no other team has a losing record.
They trailed 2-0 after the first inning and got their lone extra-base hit in the eighth inning.
“It’s just another downer,” third baseman Chipper Jones said. “You come out and you have high hopes every time you walk out on the field, and then bam, before you can blink, 2-nothing. You know, it’s just like, here we go again, and you just can’t stop it from snowballing downhill.”
He managed to smile and added, “But I promise you we will win another game this year, and when we do hopefully we’ll stop the bleeding.”
Forget the tourniquet, the Braves need a defibrilator to resuscitate an offense that’s produced 13 runs in an eight-game skid, the longest losing streak for the Braves since a 10-gamer in June 2006.
They’ve been shut out three times in the eight games and failed to hit a home run in 10 of their past 11 games, including no long balls during the losing streak.
The Braves have never had a worse start under manager Bobby Cox, who said Wednesday afternoon, “It’s hard to say we’re playing real good baseball, but we are.”
They did not play good baseball Wednesday night, not by any definition. The Braves made two errors in the first inning to raise their total to 20 in 21 games, compared to 12 errors for the Cardinals.
“Don’t forget the miscommunication to lead off the game,” Jones said. “That’s what happens when you’re in a losing streak.”
He was referring to Skip Schumaker’s first-inning leadoff single, a bloop to left-center that Jones assumed fell in for a hit because left fielder Matt Diaz and center fielder Nate McLouth got wires crossed.
“No, you’re not supposed to call it if you’re going to have to dive,” Diaz said, “and both of us would’ve had to dive. I think we both made the smart play there, keeping it to a single rather than giving up an extra-base hit to start the game.”
Ryan Ludwick followed with a hard hit ball off shortstop Yunel Escobar that was ruled an error, and Albert Pujols hit an RBI single to center that McLouth failed to field cleanly for another error.
The second run scored on a wild pitch by Kawakami (0-4), who was charged with five runs (four earned), five hits and our walks (three intentional). He had another wild pitch with the bases loaded in the third to make it 3-0.
St. Louis tacked on three runs in the fifth, when Kawakami and rookie reliever Jonny Venters each allowed a double and an intentional walk and Venters also gave up a two-run hit down the first-base line.
Venters surrendered two hits and four walks in 1-2/3 innings, including David Freese’s two-run single punched down the first-base line with two out in the fifth, after a Yadier Molina intentional walk loaded the bases.
“He got the ground ball; it wasn’t hit good,” Cox said. “We were just trying to keep it to three runs. We’re not scoring a lot, and the spread gets to four, you’ve got to get five to win. Right now we’re not going to score five in two innings.”
Right now they’re lucky if they score five in two games. Oh, it’s bad.
Rookie Jason Heyward has four of their meager 12 home runs, and he was on the bench Wednesday for the first time. So was catcher Brian McCann, as Cox sought to counter Cardinals lefty Jaime Garcia with right-handed hitters.
The Braves started the day as the worst-hitting team in the NL, and produced more of same in losing for the sixth time on a seven-game trip that ends Thursday.
They will send winless Jair Jurrjens to the mound for the series finale against Adam Wainwright, who’s 4-0 with a 1.50 ERA against the team that developed him before trading him to St. Louis.
They Braves mustered four singles in seven innings against Garcia, not surprising considering they came in batting .216 against lefties and Garcia (2-1) came in with a 1.42 ERA.
He trimmed that to 0.84, allowing four hits and one walk with five strikeouts.
“He’s deceptive in that he kind of short-arms the ball, and he hides the ball very well,” said Diaz, who went 1-for-4 with three strikeouts, two against Garcia. “His ball is sinking and cutting, and you really don’t pick it up till late. As the game went on you could see it a little better, but then he started to mix in his breaking stuff.”
The Braves didn’t have an extra-base hit until Yunel Escobar’s eighth-inning double. Martin Prado followed with a single before Jones flied out and Troy Glaus struck out to end that threat.