Three Cuts: Bats quiet as Braves fall farther behind Nationals

Atlanta Braves catcher Gerald Laird (11) speaks with pitcher Mike Minor (36) on the mound during the fifth inning against the Washington Nationals. Minor gave up just two runs and seven hits, but the Braves lost 2-1.

Tommy Gilligan

Freddie Freeman laced two hits on Monday, but the other eight hitters combined for just two more as the Atlanta Braves lost to the division-leading Washington Nationals 2-1.

The loss dropped Atlanta to eight games behind Washington, and since Pittsburgh won on Monday, the Braves are 1.5 games behind the Pirates in the Wild Card race.

Here are three observations from Atlanta’s second loss in a row and third in four games:

For the better part of the last two and a half seasons, no matter what their records were or where either team was in the standings, the Braves had a leg up on the Nationals

A leg up isn’t a strong enough phrase. The Braves used to own the Nationals.

Starting with the game on Aug. 22, 2012, the Braves won the final four games of that season over the Nationals. Then in 2013, Atlanta won 13 of 19 games over Washington.

For the first eight games on the 2014 season, the trend continued. The Braves were 7-1 over the Nationals to start the season.

Atlanta didn’t even fear Washington ace Stephen Strasburg.

While Strasburg owns a 3.10 career ERA, that figure ballooned to 4.62 when facing the Braves. His 4.41 strikeout-to-walk ratio dropped to 3.43 when he was on the mound versus Atlanta.

As lopsided as this rivalry was (Atlanta was 24-7 against Washington) from Aug. 22, 2012 to June 20, 2014, the Nationals seemed to have reversed the course.

The Braves have played the Nationals six times now since June 20, and Atlanta has won just two.

It never seemed to matter how far ahead the Nationals were in the National League East race, because the Braves always figured they had time to catch up because, well, they owned the Nationals.

Washington is now eight games ahead of Atlanta, and the Nationals don’t seem to be losing with regularity any longer in this series.

The Braves aren’t scoring any runs for Minor. But he’s not about to complain, at least not out loud in a voice that anyone can hear.

Great starting pitching has been the norm for Atlanta this season. So too has Atlanta bats not producing enough runs to take advantage of the great pitching.

Entering Monday’s game, the Braves ranked 29th in the league with only 529 runs scored this season. Minor has received a relatively healthy 4.32 runs per game of offense this season. Only Ervin Santana at 4.40 runs per game gets more support from Braves’ bats.

On the flip side of that coin, Alex Wood only gets 2.86 runs on average during his starts. Julio Teheran gets just 3.23 runs when he’s on the mound.

While Minor can’t complain to either of those guys, he does know now what they’ve been going through. Since Aug. 1, over Minor’s last seven starts, the Braves have scored just 17 runs. That’s just 2.43 runs per game Minor has received in his starts.

Atlanta scored just once on Monday against the Nationals. In Minor’s last start, the Braves were blanked by the Phillies. What must make it tough on Minor is that he’s pitching rather well of late.

In his last seven starts, Minor has given up just 39 hits in 46 2/3 innings, and has a 3.28 ERA. But his record is 2-4. Over his last four starts, Minor has a 2.25 ERA and a 2-2 record.

Freeman notched the first hit of Monday’s game for the Braves, a single into left field. He also singled into right field in the eighth inning to plate Jose Constanza and end a 16-inning scoring drought Atlanta was suffering through.

The eighth-inning hit was made even more impressive by the fact that the Nationals brought in lefty Matt Thornton to exploit the lefty-lefty matchup. But Freeman didn’t seem to care.

Freeman, over his career, is 2 for 2 versus Thornton. While that may be a small sample size, what’s not so small is the 14 games this season where Freeman has tormented the Nationals.

While Freeman was 2 for 3 on Monday, he’s hit six doubles, four home runs, driven in nine and batted 27 for 55 (.491) this season against Washington.

Freeman was an All-Star selection earlier in the season. And at .291 with 18 home runs and 71 RBI, he’s enjoying a good season. His .491 batting average is second to only one team he’s faced in 2014.

In three games against the Pirates, Freeman went 5 for 10 (.500). All five of his hits were singles, so even though his batting average is higher, it’s easy to consider Freeman’s games versus the Nationals more damaging because of all the runs he’s produced.