Atlanta Braves starting pitcher Mike Minor sits in the dugout during the fourth inning against the San Diego Padres on Sunday. The Braves, who played late Tuesday night at Seattle, were riding a six-game losing streak. (Reuters)
SEATTLE — As Freddie Freeman answered questions about the Braves’ sixth consecutive loss Sunday in San Diego, he wore one of the “Battleaxe” T-shirts that teammates designed as a tribute to Chipper Jones in the now-retired slugger’s final season in 2012.
Right now, the Braves could use Jones instead of those fading T-shirts. Even in his final season at age 40, he posted a higher on-base percentage (.377) and better strikeouts-to-walks ratio (51/57) than any hitter on the current Braves team. And was a far better situational hitter than any current Brave has been this season.
Jones and other former Braves such as Brian McCann and Tim Hudson also provided leadership, something this team has frankly appeared to lack at times when things haven’t gone the Braves’ way. But that’s a story for another day.
The Braves, who had a merciful day off Monday in Seattle and played late on Tuesday, are 0-6 on an eight-game road trip that finishes with a game tonight against the Mariners. They’ve hit .235 and totaled 13 runs and two homers in the past six games.
“We’re not out of this thing; we’re only 3 1/2 back,” Freeman said. “But we’ve got to get it going soon, though.”
The Braves are 9-16 in their past 25 games, including an alarming 0-9 in games decided by one run. They slipped to a season-high 3 1/2 games behind first-place Washington in the National League East before the Nationals’ series finale Monday against Baltimore.
A familiar weakness has factored heavily in the 0-6 record on the road trip: The Braves are 10-for-59 (.169) with runners in scoring position. They ranked 17th in the majors with a .255 average in those situations and 24th with a .200 average with RISP and two outs.
They failed to score Saturday after loading the bases with none out in the final inning of a 12-inning loss. Then they did the almost unfathomable by pulling off that feat again Sunday, failing to score after loading the bases with none out in the seventh inning of a 10-inning loss.
“You feel like, OK, we’ve got some good at-bats coming, we’ve got the bases loaded,” Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez said. “And we didn’t get anything for it again. What you’re looking for is just a ball to get through the infield, a pop-up, a wild pitch, anything. We’re not getting any of that stuff right now.”
On a related note, the Braves ranked last in the majors with 21 sacrifice flies, 26 fewer than MLB leader Detroit.
When asked if anything in particular about the Braves’ recent struggles concerned him most, veteran backup catcher Gerald Laird said: “Just not being able to get guys home from third when you should. We’ve had opportunities to take the lead and get the ball handed over to our main bullpen guys, and we just haven’t been able to get it done.
“We’ve got so many opportunities to take the lead and blow games open, and we’re not doing it. Like we always keep saying, every guy in here knows it; the good teams win those games.”
Said Freeman: “It’s just getting hits. When we’re in the middle of the lineup getting one hit or zero hits, we can’t keep the line moving and we’re not going to score very many runs. We’ve got to take that upon ourselves. It’s the guys in the middle of the lineup that need to get going. We’ve only got six or seven weeks left and we’ve got to turn this thing around.”
When the guys in the middle do get hits, they haven’t hit home runs recently. The team strikes out at prodigious rates, but doesn’t hit the homers to justify such huge K totals. The Braves had three of the NL’s top eight in strikeouts, including major league leader B.J. Upton, whose 139 were 13 more than American League leader Chris Davis.
(Upton also has an NL-low .211 batting average and yet not only continues to play every day, but bats leadoff. The Braves last week acquired a viable leadoff option in Emilio Bonifacio. It’ll be interesting to see if he moves into a regular role.)
After getting swept by the Padres, the Braves were as close to third-place Miami (3 1/2 games) as to Washington. If the season ended Monday, the Braves would not have made the playoffs.
“It’s good we’re going into an off day, take a step away from the game, take a deep breath,” Laird said. “We’ve got young guys. Just relax a little bit and then come into Seattle and get ready to play a new series. Because we’ve got to get it going.”
The Braves have a tougher remaining schedule than the Nationals and their next 18 games are against teams that currently have winning records: Seattle, followed by a 10-game homestand against the Nationals, Dodgers and Athletics.
The Braves have 28 remaining games against teams with current winning records and in the final week of the season, they’ve got a four-game homestand against the Pirates followed by a season-ending series at Philadelphia.
The Nationals, before Monday’s final against the Orioles, had 22 games remaining against teams with winning records, including nine against the Braves. Six are in Atlanta, beginning with a three-game series that starts Friday.