When New York Mets first baseman Ike Davis — who came into Sunday night’s game batting .147 with 54 strikeouts in 149 at-bats — is the hero, you know it was a tough night for the Braves.
The Mets scored three runs in the eighth inning to beat the Braves 4-2, snapping Atlanta’s winning streak at eight games. Here are Three Cuts from a mostly ugly night at Citi Field:
1. The Braves’ thin bullpen was exposed
A month ago the Braves’ bullpen was considered one of the club’s greatest strengths, often mentioned in the same breath with the big bats as the reason for long-term optimism. But when Eric O’Flaherty and Johnny Venters were lost to Tommy John surgery, the relief lineup went from arguably the best in the league to one of the toughest puzzles manager Fredi Gonzalez has to solve.
Gonzalez failed to find the right pieces on Sunday night.
Even though starter Julio Teheran looked shaky in spots — walking the worst batter on the Mets roster (the aforementioned Davis) and serving up a home run to Lucas Duda — he only gave up one run in 6 2/3 innings and had thrown only 93 pitches when he handed the ball to Luis Avilan with the Braves leading 2-1.
That lead came in the top of the seventh when Justin Upton reached on a single and Dan Uggla hammered a hanging 78-mph changeup into the club-level seats over the left-field wall for a two-run homer.
With the bullpen at full strength, the Braves would have stood a great chance of sneaking out of New York with a sweep. O’Flaherty or Venters would have worked the eighth and given the ball to Craig Kimbrel to close.
Instead, Gonzalez had to be creative and bring in Cory Gearrin, who promptly gave up a leadoff single to the Justin Turner. Then Duda hit a ground-rule double down the left-field line that bounced into the stands, moving Turner to third. Gearrin then loaded the bases by hitting Mike Baxter with a pitch.
That set up the moment of truth, as the struggling Davis came to the plate. Rumors that Davis was headed back to the minors had been swirling for weeks, and the frustration showed on his face with every failed at-bat. Teammates and coaches encouraged him nightly, but the slump was taking its toll.
On Sunday he earned a little redemption. Gearrin threw a curveball over the middle of the plate and Davis ripped a two-run single to right field.
The Mets went on to close out the victory.
The question isn’t if the Braves will add some new bodies to the bullpen, it’s when and where will they come from. Don’t be surprised if some fresh faces appear on the pitching roster sooner rather than later.
2. The strikeouts are piling up at an alarming rate
Gonzalez insists that these Braves are built for power and a large percentage of strikeouts are a byproduct of the home runs. But 14 strikeouts — 12 coming against Mets starter Shaun Marcum, who was 0-5 with a 6.59 ERA coming into the night — cannot be waved away.
Marcum’s dozen strikeouts was a career high, and he got there with a steady stream of 80-mph breaking balls that weren’t especially creative. Several hitters, including B.J. Upton and Freddie Freeman, thought Marcum received some generous calls, especially on the high side. But the calls were consistent all night, as were Marcum’s pitches.
Almost half of the Braves’ runs this season have come via the longball. Those homers are exciting to watch, but sometimes manufacturing a run in a close game is more critical than taking another massive cut. On that front, the Braves haven’t been very productive.
They are on pace for more than 1,500 strikeouts this season. No team has ever won a World Series with more than 1,200.
It’s still too soon to worry. But if the trend continues, that time is coming.
3. More misadventures in the field for Uggla
Dan Uggla represented the sum total of the Braves’ offense on Sunday, but it was an adventuresome night in the field for the second baseman.
Uggla misplayed a pop fly in the first inning, allowing David Wright to reach first base. Then in the bottom of the fourth, Uggla fielded a sharply hit ball by Davis — a tough play but not one that would make any highlight reels — but after making a good pivot, he threw the ball at the feet of Freeman, who couldn’t dig it out.
The scorers were generous in giving Davis a hit, but Uggla walked away from the play slapping his glove with his head down.
Even a routine double-play in the sixth became exciting when Uggla caught the throw from Juan Francisco and tagged second, but then threw a grounder to first that Freeman had to snag on a short hop for the second out.
He had a productive night at the plate, reaching first after being hit by a Marcum pitch in his first at-bat and belting the Braves only home run in his second at-bat. Still, expect Uggla to spend a little extra time snagging fly balls and making throws to first during warm-ups in Toronto.