San Diego Padres third base coach Glenn Hoffman, left, greets Rene Rivera after Rivera hit a home run off Chicago Cubs starting pitcher Edwin Jackson during the fifth inning of a baseball game on Thursday, July 24, 2014, in Chicago.
Struggles at the plate are costing the Atlanta Braves in the NL East race, but an unusually sloppy performance from Craig Kimbrel provided the latest setback.
Facing the San Diego Padres may not provide much relief, either.
The Braves attempt to get their bats untracked in the opener of this four-game wraparound series with the Padres on Friday night.
Atlanta (55-47) led Washington by one game in the division after opening this 11-game homestand with a 6-4 win over Philadelphia last Friday. However, the Braves have since dropped 1 1/2 back of the Nationals after dropping four of six.
The offense has been the main culprit, batting .209 while undermining the pitching staff’s 2.78 ERA. That’s followed a .303 average with 27 runs during a three-game winning streak.
Atlanta was limited to six hits Thursday, but it was a pair of wild pitches by Kimbrel that led to a 3-2 loss to Miami. The four-time All-Star closer put the go-ahead runner on first with a wild pitch on a strikeout, and another advanced him to second before giving up the run-scoring single.
"That’s part of baseball," said Kimbrel, whose 168 saves over the past four years lead the majors and are 46 more than the next pitcher. "Not everything goes perfect every time you go out there. You’ve just got to find a way to get through it and unfortunately we didn’t do it."
The Braves will now try to bounce back against the Padres (45-56), but they’ve dropped seven of the past nine meetings while hitting .130 with runners in scoring position and averaging 2.2 runs.
Chris Johnson hasn’t had much trouble offensively lately for Atlanta. He’s 12 for 35 (.343) with five homers and 13 RBIs in nine games after connecting for a two-run shot Thursday.
Getting the ball for the Braves will be Alex Wood (7-7, 3.24 ERA), who is 2-1 with a 2.87 ERA in five starts since returning to the rotation after nearly seven weeks in the bullpen.
The left-hander was solid Sunday, allowing one run and three hits with eight strikeouts in six innings of an 8-2 win over Philadelphia.
San Diego has won four of five following a 2-8 stretch, and its usually dormant offense had 22 hits and 21 runs while winning back-to-back games, including Thursday’s 13-3 victory over the Chicago Cubs.
"We started the season struggling at the plate and now we’ve been hitting better," catcher Rene Rivera said. "We’re scoring more runs since the first half of the season. I think it was time to do it."
Rivera, Seth Smith and Will Venable had three hits apiece and combined to drive in six runs.
Smith is 9 for 18 with four RBIs and as many runs in five games, but he’s 5 for 25 in 11 games at Turner Field.
Jesse Hahn (5-2, 2.21) gets a chance to continue his impressive rookie season for the Padres. The right-hander is expected to be recalled from Triple-A El Paso and make his first start since July 11.
He owns a 1.50 ERA while winning his first three road outings, matching the club record set by Brian Lawrence in 2001.
Hahn allowed one run and three hits with six strikeouts and four walks in six innings of a 6-3 road victory over the Los Angeles Dodgers in his last major league appearance, returning to the minors hours later due to the All-Star break.
Hahn’s only work over that stretch was two scoreless innings Monday for Double-A San Antonio.