It was business as usual for the Braves’ non-pitchers on a stormy Wednesday that lapped into Thursday, and business isn’t exactly booming. They managed two hits off four Mets pitchers. They hit five balls out of the infield, two of those coming in the ninth inning. They lost 4-0. They were two games behind Philadelphia as of Monday; they’re five in arrears now.
The good news, such as it was, is that the Braves are beginning to get some of their position players back. Jason Heyward returned from the disabled list Wednesday night. (He went 0-for-2 with a walk; his throwing error on Jose Reyes’ leadoff double led to an unearned run, which was all the Mets needed.) Nate McLouth is scheduled to begin his rehab stint at Gwinnett today. Freddie Freeman is set to return to the Braves’ lineup tonight.
The bad news: There’s no assurance Heyward and Freeman and eventually McLouth will galvanize this lineup. As noted, the Braves have the best pitching in the majors. But you can’t, as the saying goes, win a game 0-0.
“Two hits,” said Fredi Gonzalez, the manager. “It’s hard to win a baseball game.”
Then: “We gave up four runs, and that felt like a big mountain to climb the way we’re swinging the bats.”
Dan Uggla, of whom much was expected, had consecutive two-hit games in Houston over the weekend; he has had one hit in the three games since, all losses. Jordan Schafer went 0-for-4 Wednesday and saw his average plunge to .211. Brian McCann went 0-for-4 and saw his fall below .300. Chipper Jones went 0-for-3 and saw his dip below .260.
There’s a good team in here somewhere, but on such a night it was tough to detect. Nobody can explain why Uggla, who has always hit in the majors, hasn’t hit here. Nobody can explain why this team, built to score, cannot. But the Braves have mustered six runs over the past 27 innings, and four of those have come via the homer. This club sustains nothing.
If this gifted team is to reach the postseason, that must change, and soon. The Braves don’t have to lead the league in hitting; they only need to score enough runs to give their splendid pitchers a chance. Tim Hudson threw one bad pitch — Angel Pagan hit a two-run homer off the foul pole — and saw his record sag below .500.
We say again: Surely this team will start to hit. But if we’re still mouthing those words when July arrives, it might be time to give Julio Franco a call.
By Mark Bradley