If for a moment we can get past that the Braves currently have too many players who either can’t stand without wobbling (flu) or can’t see straight (blurred vision) or can’t walk without pain from a strained groin or a bruised leg (or “hematoma,” to use Chipper Jones’ new word), this isn’t a difficult problem to figure out.
If the Braves hope to survive this problematic intersection of injuries and batting slumps, they’re going to need two things: pitching and defense.
They received neither Saturday.
For the second game in a row the Braves spotted the Washington Nationals an early 4-0 lead. They scrambled back to tie, but ultimately spontaneously combusted again — like no perceived pennant contender should.
They lost 8-4. That makes six straight. They’ve suddenly tumbled into fourth in the National League East (not that standings are worthy of panic in late May).
Most important, the Braves not only lack any semblance of clutch in their offense — 15 stranded runners in two games — but their pitchers are being dismembered, and their defense Saturday looked one Volkswagen and a pair of exploding shoes short of a clown act.
“We’re not playing particularly well right now, and there’s no excuses,” manager Fredi Gonzalez said.
Those words were stronger than any others spoken by Gonzalez in the postgame. Fact is, Gonzalez’ temperament seemed a little too mild for a manager whose team is playing so poorly and, at times, lifeless. The Braves have allowed Washington, the team ahead of them in the standings, 15 runs and 12 extra-base hits in two games — this after Cincinnati had 10 home runs in a four-game sweep last week.
Gonzalez barely said a peep about right fielder Jason Heyward, who in the fifth inning had the type of lackadaisical defensive play that aroused memories of a 1998 game, when center fielder Andruw Jones was slow to hustle for a fly ball that fell for a single, prompting Bobby Cox to yank him in the middle of the inning.
Heyward’s play didn’t result in a run. But it was heinous enough that many in the crowd of 42,698 loudly booed him. He bobbled Bryce Harper’s single and then was slow to pick up the ball, allowing Harper to get to second.
Gonzalez acknowledged the miscue later. But when asked about TV replays confirming Heyward’s nonchalantness, he said only, “I have not seen that [replay] yet. I was in the middle of trying to get [reliever Kris] Medlen warmed up.”
It might’ve been the worst coverup in postgame history.
Heyward later said, “I let the ball get away, and [Harper] took the extra base. If I had attacked it aggressively, I still more likely would’ve bobbled the ball, but he probably wouldn’t have run. … [Teammates] just said, ‘Let it go.’ I said, ‘My bad’ out there, and I said ‘My bad’ when I came in. I play the game as hard as I can. I want that to happen as few times as possible.”
The Braves were missing Chipper Jones (leg), Freddie Freeman (eyes), Brian McCann (flu) and David Ross (groin). It’s not like they have much margin for error.
But Heyward wasn’t alone. Three other plays led to runs: Left fielder Martin Prado got a slow jump on Danny Espinosa’s short fly to open the game, and the ball fell for a double. Center fielder Michael Bourn lost track of the wall, bumped into it and played a fly ball into a triple. (No error was charged.) Reliever Jonny Venters had his glove knocked off by Ryan Zimmerman’s comebacker, recovered but threw wide of first base. (The error was charged to Eric Hinske.)
Bourn was as stand-up as a guy could be: “I messed up.”
He said more. But that summed it up fine.
Nonetheless, this isn’t a time for Braves pitchers to feel victimized. Mike Minor recovered nicely after allowing four runs in the first two innings, but that doesn’t excuse the start. (He also allowed a two-single to pitcher Stephen Strasburg before Danny Espinosa’s three-run homer). Medlen and Venters were poor in relief (three runs in two innings combined).
Bourn’s tidy summary: “We were hot before. We’re not hot right now.”
Forget hot. A little less slapstick would suffice.
By Jeff Schultz