SAN FRANCISCO – During the past two nights at the ballpark by the bay, Braves hitters provided something of a salve for recently struggling Giants pitchers. The hosts were not as kind to Braves pitcher Ben Sheets.
Freddie Freeman hit a pair of solo homers and Jason Heyward went deep, too, but the Braves had only one other hit in 6-1/3 innings against Ryan Vogelsong during a 5-3 loss at AT&T Park. It was their sixth defeat in seven games and Sheets’ third in a row.
Sheets (4-4) was charged with nine hits and four runs in 4-1/3 innings, the first time he lasted fewer than six innings in eight starts since signing with the Braves after two years in semi-retirement. He had three walks and two strikeouts.
“I hate the way I pitched,” said Sheets, who has a 7.71 ERA during his three-start losing streak, with 21 hits and 20 runs (18 earned) allowed in 16-1/3 innings. “I feel like I made some good pitches, just didn’t put anybody away.”
Asked to clarify about what he hated about his performance, he said, “I hate the results.”
Homers by Heyward in the first inning and Freeman in the second staked Sheets to a 2-0 lead, but the Giants scored two runs in the third and two more in the fourth en route to their fifth consecutive win and 15th in 21 games.
San Francisco leads the National League West and now has the same record (71-55) as the Braves, who are but 1-1/2 games ahead of the Cardinals and three games ahead of the Dodgers in the wild-card standings. The Braves have two more games against the Giants this weekend and can do no better than a split of the four-game series.
Atlanta has hit .197 and totaled 17 runs during its 1-6 slide, with nine of the runs in that period coming in two games.
“It’s getting frustrating,” Freeman said. “Obviously, we’re a winning team and we’re just not winning now. We’ve run into some good pitching. We battled out there today and they just came out on top.”
Someone mentioned to Freeman that plenty of Braves fans are starting to get a sense of deja vu after last season’s September collapse that cost the Braves a wild-card berth.
“You can’t put it like that,” Freeman said. “That was last year, this is this year. It’s a whole different season. We’re still in first place in the wild card. We didn’t lose any ground to the Nationals. We’ve just got to get back out there and get on the winning track tomorrow.”
After going 3-0 with a 0.50 ERA in his first three starts, Sheets is 1-4 with a 5.34 ERA in his past five.
“I think he left some balls over the plate,” Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez said. “There were some balls hit pretty good. I don’t think we made any missed plays behind him or anything. I think he did a hell of a job getting out of that [second] inning with the bases loaded. But I think later on he left some balls over the plate and they capitalized on them.”
Yes, but Sheets didn’t get much help from his defense in the third inning when Eric Hinske, making his second start of the season in left field, couldn’t come up with either of two deep flyballs that went for doubles by Angel Pagan and Pablo Sandoval. After Sandoval’s hit off the wall drove in Pagan with the first run, Sheets’ wild pitch let in the tying run with two out.
The Giants got two more runs in the fourth on three hits, including a leadoff single by Gregor Blanco and an RBI triple by Pagan, who went 4-for-5.
“Their top of the lineup got on base today and made some stuff happen,” Freeman said. “Pagan caused a wreck out there today. We couldn’t get him off the bases and he really changed the game for them. He was always on base. It put Sheets in the stretch all the time. He left some balls up, but we had our chances. He kept us in the game.
“We only lost by two. The offense has got to take that one.”
Sheets was replaced after giving a leadoff walk and one-out double in the fifth.
After giving up three consecutive homers in the second inning of his last start Saturday against the Dodgers, Sheets had another memorable second inning Friday when he surrendered three consecutive infield singles. The second of the hits caromed off the mound and the third deflected off his foot.
Sheets got out of that inning unscathed by striking out Brandon Crawford and getting Vogelsong to ground into a double play.
“When you have to throw extra pitches in that inning, that just keeps that pressure on you,” Sheets said. “I mean, sometimes it don’t show right away, but they find a way to make you work.”
He couldn’t work out of trouble in the next inning after Pagan led off with a double that Hinske appeared to misread off the bat.
Vogelsong was 0-2 with a 17.47 ERA and .500 opponents’ average in his past two starts before Friday, lasting a combined 5-2/3 innings in those games. But in 18 starts before that he was 10-4 with a 1.96 ERA, and Friday he looked closer to that previous form.
Heyward’s first-inning homer to center was his fourth in eight career games at AT&T Park. He extended his career-best homer total to 22, including eight in 29 games since July 25.
Freeman led off the second inning with a first-pitch homer to center field that put the Braves ahead 2-0.
While Giants hitters knocked Sheets around in the third and fourth innings, Vogelsong didn’t give up another hit until Michael Bourn’s sixth-inning single. Freeman got Vogelsong again with a solo homer in the seventh, his 17th.
“I got a couple of mistake [pitches] and I was able to get them,” he said. “I don’t think that second one is going out at Turner Field.”
It was his third two-homer game of Freeman’s career and second this season. He hit two on April 19 at Arizona.