Braves shortstop Andrelton Simmons reacts after striking out against the Nationals during Tuesday night’s game. Simmons and the Braves have struggled mightily at the plate in recent weeks. (Reuters)
WASHINGTON — If the Braves hope to turn things around and enter the postseason with momentum, they know they must get their offense going again.
They had a puny .197 batting average and 32 runs scored in their past 11 games before Tuesday, including two or fewer runs in six games. Hence a 4-7 record in that stretch.
“We definitely have to get better,” hitting coach Greg Walker said. “We’re going through one of those stretches where we’re scuffling right now. And every time we’ve scuffled we’ve just looked and said, we’ve got to get more guys that are good hitters and not just sluggers. And every time, they’ve responded. Someone has stepped up and gotten hot.”
Freddie Freeman and Chris Johnson have stayed hot most of the season. But when the Braves have their offense humming, it’s been with five or six hitters producing at a high level. Since hot-hitting leadoff man Jason Heyward went on the disabled list with a broken jaw four weeks ago, it’s been only Freeman and Johnson, with another batter or two throwing in brief hot stretches.
Multiple hitters struggling leads to this: a .230 average and 3.7 runs per game over a 33-game stretch. That’s what the Braves produced since a 14-game winning streak ended.
They had a winning record (18-15) in that span mainly because of a 3.07 ERA — even better than their majors-leading 3.19 for the season.
After leading the National League in homers (114) and ranking third in slugging percentage (.412) before the All-Star break, the Braves were fourth in homers and eighth in slugging (.388) since the break before Tuesday. Their .317 OBP since the break was seventh, after ranking third (.324) before.
Can the Braves, who hope to get Heyward back by late September, get the offense turned around by October?
“When we’re a good team — and we’ve been a good offensive team for long stretches — everybody falls in love with us and says, ‘Man, they’re really good,’” Walker said. “And when we go bad everybody says, ‘Oh, they stink.’ Well, if I told you I know which team is going to show up in October — I have no idea. But I know they’ll continue to work to get there.”
Manager Fredi Gonzalez was asked Tuesday whether the Braves were built well for the postseason.
“Yeah,” he said. “We’ve got good pitching. You look at our rotation, you can arguably say we don’t have a No. 1, but we’ve got four No. 2’s. Or four No. 3’s. And they compete their butts off. And the postseason, the offensive stuff? You don’t know. The teams that do stuff during (the regular season) may not do it during the postseason. It’s just getting in.”
CLEMENTE AWARD NOMINEE: Pitcher Tim Hudson is the Braves’ nominee for the 2012 Roberto Clemente Award, which recognizes a player who best represents baseball on and off the field. The Hudson Family Foundation has raised more than $700,000 for children and families in Georgia and Alabama.
BRAVES SWEPT: The Braves had such high hopes entering Tuesday’s doubleheader, which offered a chance to continue their Nationals Park winning streak and clinch the National League East title. If only.
Instead of clinching, the Braves left their fans clinched a little tighter in concern after losing both games to the resurgent Nationals and leaving the Braves’ magic number at four, pushing back any celebratory champagne until at least Friday’s series opener against the Cubs at Chicago.
“We need to start playing better baseball, start swinging the bats,” Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez said. “I like where we’re at, our position. But there’s still baseball games to be played, and we’ve just got to get back on a roll again.”
In the second game, Freddy Garcia (1-2) pitched well again in his second start for the Braves, allowing seven hits and one run in seven innings, with two walks and six strikeouts. But the skidding Braves offense mustered only three hits before adding a couple in the ninth inning while being shut out for the 15th time.