Three Cuts: Braves offense blanked again in loss to Marlins

With Sunday's loss, the Braves dropped their seasons series with the Marlins for the first time since 2009.

Robert Mayer/Robert Mayer-USA TODAY Sports

The Atlanta Braves failed to score a run for the fourth time in the past eight games as they wrapped up their season series with the Miami Marlins with a 4-0 loss on Sunday afternoon. Here are three observations from the game:

The Atlanta Braves have been held under two runs in a quarter of their 143 games played this season, and yet they entered Sunday afternoon tied for the National Leagye’s final wildcard spot. Their 4-0 loss to the Marlins not only guaranteed the franchise its first losing record to Miami — and a Miami team that played without superstar Jose Fernandez for most of the year, no less — since 2009, but it handed this lackluster offense its 13th shutout of the campaign. That left manager Fredi Gonzalez’s club with another missed opportunity and more frustration.

This team’s identity is set in stone. The Braves are just banking on one final offense surge, even if it’s for five or 10 games, to push them into the playoffs.

Gonzalez continues to back his players’ individual talents, but the collective results remains underwhelming. With any sort of consistent offensive production, this wildcard spot would be in the books — not to mention the NL East title still up for grabs.

As it stands, only the former is still a realistic option.

"Teheran just gave up four runs, and on most nights he’s got a chance to win the game. But this is a — we’ve been shutout five times or four times in six games, or something like that," Gonzalez said after the team’s fifth loss in the past eight games. "I thought the game was right there and we had an opportunity to get back in it or go ahead, and we didn’t have any productive outs there."

Gonzalez is referencing his team’s lack of production in the sixth inning, a scoreless frame (obviously) that could almost be considered an accomplishment. It’s fairly difficult to avoid scoring with men on second and third base with zero outs, especially against ineffective Miami starter Brad Hand, who entered the game with a 2-6 record, 4.76 ERA and 4.66 fielding-independent pitching. But with Jason Heyward and Phil Gosselin standing in scoring position and the middle of the lineup due up, the Atlanta offense pulled off the feat.

Freddie Freeman grounded out softly back to the pitcher, Justin Upton struck out and Evan Gattis lined out directly to left fielder Christian Yelich. Just like that, Hand worked his way out of the jam.

"He pitched out of it," Gonzalez said.

Or, conversely, the Braves hit their way out of it. We’ve seen this storyline play out too many times before in these types of games. The Braves have been wildly ineffective with men in scoring position this season, ranking 24th in baseball with 135 weighted runs created plus in such situations, and this outing was no different: low-lighted by the sixth inning debacle, the Braves stranded seven runners overall. The Braves scored in just nine of their past 74 innings.

Inconsistency is the only consistency.

A few weeks ago, in a home game against the Los Angeles Dodgers that came in the rare four-game series that avoided both Clayton Kershaw and Zack Greinke, the Braves lost a game with No. 1 starter Julio Teheran on the mound taking on Kevin Correia in his L.A. debut. Atlanta lost the matchup. The game was more of a reflection of the Braves’ inability to hit Correia than Teheran’s struggles, but it warranted mention at the time.

Atlanta’s loss on Sunday was reminiscent of that Dodgers series, so it warrants mention again.

With Fernandez already out for the year and unavailable, Hand stepped in for Marlins starter Henderson Alvarez — a pitcher the Braves have hit well, but a quality arm nonetheless. Certainly better than Hand, a below-replacement level pitcher who has given very few teams problems this season. Teheran, on the other hand, entered the day with a 2.90 ERA and 3.57 FIP … so of course he came up on the short end.

Teheran wasn’t exactly blameless after giving up four earned runs, but his job was made all the more difficult by having to hold onto a shutout just in order to earn a no-decision. The 23-year-old cruised through the Marlins order through the first part of the game, sending 13 of the first 14 batters he faced back to the dugout, but the wheels eventually fell off and there was no room for error. He left the game after just 5 1/3 innings of work, but he struck out five and did not issue a single walk.

If he didn’t deserve a win, he deserved a competitive score.

Instead, the Braves fell to Brad Hand with one of their top arms on the mound. These things happen over the course of a 162-game schedule. When you’re tied for the final wildcard spot, that isn’t quite as comforting.

The final six head-to-head matchups against the Washington Nationals served as a type of rallying cry for Braves supporters still holding out hope for the division crown last month, but barring an unexpected sweep those six games look like wildcard-defining moments. The Braves face the Nationals (six games), Rangers (three), Mets (three), Phillies (three) and Pirates (four) to cap their 2014 regular season.

That’s nine games against so-so opponents and 10 games against quality playoff contenders — none bigger than the home-and-home series against Washington.

The Milwaukee Brewers, who entered Sunday tied with Atlanta for the final playoff spot, face a similar slate of games. They take on the Marlins, Reds (twice), Cardinals, Pirates and Cubs down the stretch. They’ve won just one of their past 10 games, so nothing is guaranteed there. The Pirates are also right there in the race and have arguably the easiest path ahead and could be in the driver’s seat, especially since they are playing the best baseball of the three top contenders. Their remaining schedule: Phillies, Cubs, Red Sox, Reds, Braves and Brewers.

The NL wildcard picture is a mess. The Braves’ lack of run production has left them scratching and clawing for the final spot in the playoff picture, one they long ago could have wrapped up.