The Braves have an eight-game losing skid and an 0-8 record on Mondays after another ugly loss on Memorial Day, but it’s too early to say they are behind the eight ball in terms of their seasonal goals.
It is, however, fair to say they aren’t providing reason for confidence among their many followers.
Starting pitcher Tommy Hanson was knocked out early and the Braves’ patchwork offense stayed punchless in an 8-2 series-opening loss to the St. Louis Cardinals on Monday afternoon at Turner Field.
“We’ve got to do something to get this monkey off our back,” Hanson said after giving up six runs and eight hits in 3-1/3 innings.
The Braves fell to 7-19 without Chipper Jones in the lineup, compared to 19-5 when he starts. He’ll be on the disabled list at least until June 8.
“We’ve got to turn this thing around soon,” said catcher Brian McCann, who went 0-for-4 in his return to the lineup after missing six starts due to sickness. “We’ve got to swing the bats a little bit better, and play all phases of the games a little better.”
There were a significant number of Cardinals fans in an announced crowd of 42,426, and they were the only ones with much to get excited about after the third inning.
St. Louis scored four runs in the third and pushed its lead to 6-0 in the fourth as the Braves stumbled to their eighth consecutive defeat, their longest losing streak since a nine-game slide in April 2010.
“I think starting pitching sets the tone,” said manager Fredi Gonzalez, whose pitchers have one quality start in eight games.
After collecting five hits Monday, the Braves have batted .178 and totaled 20 runs in their eight-game skid, while their pitchers have allowed seven or more runs in each of the past four games.
The last time Atlanta pitchers gave up seven or more runs in four consecutive games was July 2008, when they did it in five straight.
In one week Atlanta dropped from first place with a 1-1/2 game lead in the NL East to tied for last with Philadelphia, four games behind leader Washington. After a 22-9 surge from April 10 to May 13, the Braves have gone 4-11 while hitting .224 and posting a 4.28 ERA.
Despite some sloppy play, particularly the past few days, Gonzalez said his team remained committed and determined to right the ship. What will it take?
“Good pitching, timely hitting, scoring some runs like we had been doing early on in the season,” he said. “Right now we’re not doing either of those two things, but the one thing we’re doing, you see our team playing hard… But two runs a game ain’t cutting it and giving up four or five is not doing it either.”
Hanson (5-4) needed 92 pitches (56 strikes) to record 10 outs, and the last of six runs charged to him scored after reliever Kris Medlen entered and continued his recent rough stretch.
The Braves have lost nine of their past 12 games at Turner Field and allowed seven or more runs in seven of those games. Hanson was asked if there was any added pressure on pitchers lately with the offense sputtering.
“Not in my situation,” he said. “I wanted to go out and give us a quality start and give our team a chance to win. I think today was more of my fastball command and my inability to make pitches when I needed to. I made them at times, but I wasn’t consistently making the pitches I needed to make against a good offensive team like the Cardinals.”
Injuries and illness may have contributed to the Braves’ losing skid, but not the perplexing 0-8 record on Monday. While no one has suggested it’s anything but coincidence, the Braves have struggled mightily on Mondays, even when the team was otherwise playing well.
They have totaled a meager 14 runs in eight Monday games.
Cardinals pitcher Lance Lynn (8-1) had eight strikeouts in seven innings (five hits, two runs) to avenge his only loss, a May 13 defeat at the hands of the Braves and Hanson in St. Louis. Like Hanson, Lynn has done his best work in road games – he’s 5-0 with a 2.04 ERA in six road starts.
Hanson is 1-2 with a 6.75 ERA in four home starts, and 4-2 with a 2.41 ERA in seven road starts. He hasn’t made it out of the fourth inning of either of his two May starts at Turner Field.
He worked out of bases-loaded, no-out jam in a 30-pitch first inning, and used two strikeouts to get out of the second inning unscathed after Tyler Greene’s one-out triple.
But he couldn’t escape another mess in the fourth. With two on and one out, Hanson and backup first baseman Eric Hinske nearly collided going for a Matt Adams groundball. Hinske had to alter his throw to first base and Adams was safe.
With bases loaded, Hanson and McCann got their signals crossed on a passed ball to let in the first run. (McCann expected a fastball, Hanson threw a curve.) Yadier Molina’s two-out single pushed the lead to 2-0, and Daniel Descalso’s two-run homer made it 4-0.
Ex-Brave Rafael Furcal added a solo homer with one out in the fourth inning, and Hanson was replaced after walking the next two batters, with an errant pickoff throw also in the mix.
“Today was one of them days where we battled, but they beat us in every facet of the game,” center fielder Michael Bourn said. “So we’ve got to find a way to turn it around and try to play better tomorrow. We just need one game to really get us going back on track again.”
The Braves again played without first baseman Freddie Freeman, who’s dealing with blurry vision from a dry-eye condition that will no longer permit him to wear contacts, and Chipper Jones, who’s on the disabled list recovering from a severe lower-leg contusion.
“We need our guys to get healthy and to be out there, but there’s nothing we can do about it right now,” Hanson said. “We’ve got to work with what we’ve got. And we’ve got to compete. A lot of our loss today was my inability to go out there and compete and give us a chance to win. Giving up six runs in three innings when we’re not playing well isn’t going to get the job done. I took a lot of the blame today. We’ve got to do a better job of competing and trying to win these games.”