Three Cuts: Phillies blank Braves, lack of runs ‘mind boggling’

Atlanta Braves starting pitcher Mike Minor sits and watches helplessly as the Braves were shut out by the Philadelphia Phillies on Tuesday, 4-0.

John Bazemore/AP

ATLANTA — The Atlanta Braves loaded the bases in the first inning with only one out, but back-to-back strikeouts ended that threat. For the remainder of the game, Atlanta got only one more runner in scoring position, and only knocked three base hits.

Mike Minor pitched 7 1/3 innings and allowed three runs on seven hits, but the Braves gave him zero run support the day after being no-hit by these same Phillies.

Here are three observations from Atlanta’s second straight game with ice-cold bats:

Dating back to the final inning of Atlanta’s Aug. 29 game against the Miami Marlins, the Braves have scored just one run in 36 innings of play.

Atlanta won that game 5-2, but didn’t score in the final inning, beginning a lengthy scoring drought. After that, the Braves were shut out 4-0 on Aug. 30, won 1-0 on Aug. 31 and then were no-hit by the Phillies on Monday.

Tuesday’s result was similar to the previous four games, few hits and rarely anything good happening with the bats. Jason Heyward led the game off with a double an dame it to third base, but no one could drive him in. He also led off the sixth inning with a two-bagger. He was stranded there. Andrelton Simmons provided the Braves’ only other hit, a single in the third. But he was thrown out trying to steal to end the inning.

What makes matter worse for the Braves, who have now been shut out two games in a row and three times in their last four games, is the fact that they’ve had opportunities to manufacture runs. It just seems impossible to plate one.

Of the 36 previous innings where Atlanta has scored just one run, the Braves have had at least one runner in scoring position in 11 of those innings. If the table has been set in just more than 30 percent of their innings played (and remember, Atlanta’s one run came with no runner on base–it was a solo shot from Evan Gattis), more runs should have crossed the plate.

Four of the Braves’ innings on Tuesday ended by way of a strikeout. Atlanta isn’t even putting the ball in play with regularity, which leads to striding more runners.

Over their last four games, the Braves are 1 for 23 (.044) with runners in scoring position. And remember, this team is 1-3, not 0-4 over that span. Gattis’ solo bomb on Aug. 31 held up for the win.

Upton was plunked in the left arm by Phillies starter Kyle Kendrick in the first inning to load the bases. While the free base was a nifty opportunity for the Braves, the after-effects could be very troublesome.

Atlanta’s most prolific offensive threat stayed in the game until the sixth inning, when the bruise from Kendrick’s 90 mph sinker forced Upton to the bench.

Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez said the triceps muscle started to tighten and Upton was removed from the game for precautionary reasons. Atlanta officially listed its left fielder as day-to-day with a triceps contusion, and Gonzalez refused to comment on whether or not Upton would be ready to play when the Braves take the field Wednesday at 12:10 p.m.

Upton was replaced in the sixth inning by Ryan Doumit, who promptly popped out to catcher with Heyward on second and Freddie Freeman on first. There’s no guarantee that Upton would have fared better, but his 91 RBI and .285 batting average look so much more menacing than Doumit’s stat line of .191 with 16 RBI.

Doumit struck out in the ninth inning to finish 0 for 2 in the game.

The Chicago Cubs did the Braves a favor in the race for the Wild Card by beating the Milwaukee Brewers on Tuesday. St. Louis also did Atlanta a solid by taking care of Pittsburgh. That means the standings for the final spot in the postseason didn’t change one bit in regard to the top three contenders.

Atlanta is still 1.5 games behind the Brewers for the final Wild Card spot, and .5 games ahead of Pittsburgh.

With only 23 games left, the Braves can’t afford to let chances to climb in the standings pass them by. And losing Upton for any time whatsoever would be truly detrimental to a team that’s ranked 29th in the league at scoring runs.

Gonzalez said that he got a favorable report on Upton’s triceps muscle, but still didn’t know if he’d play with game time for Wednesday’s first pitch approximately 14 hours from the end of Tuesday’s final out.

Not only is Upton an NL MVP contender, he’s Atlanta’s top run producer and only legitimate cleanup hitter. If he missed Wednesday’s game, those four at-bats could be critical in the hunt for the postseason. If he missed those at-bats, it’s imperative that those would be the only at-bats he would miss down the stretch.

Over their last 10 games, the Braves have averaged two runs per games. And that’s been with Upton in the lineup regularly.

After Tuesday’s loss, Gonzalez said that he and hitting coach Greg Walker and the rest of the coaching staff have "scratched their heads" in recently trying to find ways to wake up Atlanta’s bats.

"Up and down the lineup we’re just not (hitting)," said Gonzalez. "We’re a talented club offensively, we can put up some numbers. To get shut out in back-to-back days and three out of four days, and only score one run–the only game we’ve won in the last four–it’s mind boggling.

"We’re just not getting any runs. We’re not moving the line, we’re not putting the ball in play when we have to, it’s just frustrating."

The Braves have their problems as far as the lineup goes.

Atlanta doesn’t have a true leadoff hitter. Yes, the Braves have done well with Heyward in the No. 1 spot, but he’s better suited as a run producer, not a guy who gets on base and depends on others to drive him in.

Outside of Upton with his 91 RBI, there aren’t big-time boppers aplenty walking to the plate to push runs around the bases. Freeman has 17 dingers, but only 69 RBI. Gattis is in a similar predicament with 21 homes runs but only 51 RBI.

Take that into account along with the fact that this team is extremely streaky. The team in mired in a recent funk that’s affected the bats in a miserable way. Just a few weeks back, this same team went 8-2 over a span where it scored 53 runs over the course of 10 games. Scoring 5.3 runs per game is such a polar opposite to scoring two runs per game.

If the Braves don’t find a way to break out of this funk, or somehow get the bats streaky hot again soon, their window to climb into the postseason will quickly close.