The clock struck September on Saturday and the Braves are left trying to prove it’s not panic time.
They opened the final month of the regular season the same way they ended it last year, with a demoralizing loss to the Phillies.
Cliff Lee pitched seven shutout innings in a 5-1 win, handing the Braves their third straight loss and 10th in the past 14 games overall. The Phillies assured themselves of their first series win over the Braves since early May, while the Braves are assured of nothing better than a split in their past five series.
“I’m worried about our offense,” said manager Fredi Gonzalez, when asked about concerns of repeating a September collapse. “I’m not worried about the other parts of the game. I feel like we’re healthy where we weren’t last year. I feel we’re pitching well… But I worry about our offense. It seems like when it goes bad, it goes bad.”
Martin Prado homered for the second straight day and ninth time this season, but his eighth inning solo shot was all that stood between the Braves and a 12th shutout this season.
The Braves have scored two or fewer runs eight times in their past 13 games, leaving Gonzalez in no mood for “cap-tipping.”
“It’s so easy to say, ‘It’s (Roy) Halladay and Cliff Lee and whoever is throwing tomorrow and the bullpen, this and that,” Gonzalez said. “But we’re just not swinging the bats at all…. Enough of that. We need to take care of our end of the bargain and get better at-bats, get some hits with runners in scoring position, that type of stuff.”
The Braves have gone 1-for-13 with runners in scoring position in the first two games of this series and stranded 17 runners. Their best scoring chances Saturday kept finding struggling Brian McCann, and he popped up twice to end the fourth and sixth innings while stranding five runners.
Tim Hudson wasn’t sharp enough to keep pace with Lee, even though he didn’t exactly get pounded while giving up five runs in five innings. Hudson allowed nine hits, but only two were hit especially hard – Jimmy Rollins’ solo home run in the third inning and Chase Utley’s RBI double in the fifth.
Hudson’s afternoon dissolved after he loaded the bases with nobody out in the sixth inning and walked the pitcher Lee on a borderline 3-2 pitch.
“It’s probably the worst stuff I’ve had all year,” said Hudson, who took his first loss since July 1 against the Nationals. “It was a battle.”
Reliever Luis Avilan did quality damage control, allowing only one more run to score when Juan Pierre beat out a potential double play ball. But the Braves were already well on their way to another loss.
The Braves remained within 6 ½ games of the Nationals in the NL East but watched the Cardinals pulled within two games of their wild card lead, and both the Pirates and Dodgers were inside of four games of the Braves entering Saturday night.
Hudson said the players aren’t concerned with thoughts of another September collapse, but fielding those sorts of questions isn’t how they wanted to start the month either.
“Obviously we’re concerned about winning ballgames and not losing, but we go out there and bust our butts every game,” Hudson said. “That’s all we can do.”