Braves’ lead cut to 1 game amid ‘rough spell’

September 19th, 2021

SAN FRANCISCO -- In right field at Oracle Park, the out-of-town scoreboard is still changed by hand.

Throughout the Braves-Giants game on Saturday night, the score for the Phillies and Mets game literally loomed over the shoulder of Jorge Soler.

In the bottom of the sixth inning, the Giants' scoreboard operator switched out a "9" tile for an "F" as the Phillies topped the Mets with a 5-3 win. About an hour later, Travis d'Arnaud grounded into a game-ending double play to send the Braves to their fourth straight loss, a 2-0 blanking.

There’s not much breathing room any more for the stumbling Braves, who now only lead the Phillies by one game atop the National League East, after holding a 4 1/2-game advantage on Tuesday.

While the Braves are skidding with four straight losses, the Phils are surging with four consecutive victories. Atlanta manager Brian Snitker admitted it’s hard to keep his eyes off the standings at this point of the season.

“We’re going through a rough spell right now and they’re winning their games,” Snitker said. “That’s just the way the division’s went this year.”

With Thursday’s rainout, Atlanta readjusted its rotation to have its top three starters -- Ian Anderson, and Max Fried -- square up against baseball’s winningest team. Fried will try to be the stopper and fend off the Giants’ brooms on Sunday after Morton struggled with his command and needed 97 pitches to labor through five innings.

“I just never got into my delivery,” Morton said. “Just some really weird pitches and some really big misses.”

The offense didn’t give him any support, though, scratching across just five hits and putting two runners in scoring position all night.

The fourth inning proved to be particularly cruel.

In the top half of the frame, Soler missed a solo shot by literal inches, as Giants center fielder Steven Duggar gloved the ball at the top of the wall in center field and pushed it back into the field for a double. The ball traveled 401 feet and had a 106 mph exit velocity, but Soler was marooned at third base to end the inning.

In the bottom half of the fourth, Giants catcher Curt Casali hit a bloop single that exited his bat at 60 mph and traveled a whopping 142 feet before dropping into shallow right field for a two-run single.

“That’s the difference in these tough games like this,” Snitker said. “It’s a pitch, it’s a hit. Inches.”

There’s never a good time for a losing streak, but this current skid is the longest since the All-Star break for the Braves. Snitker is confident that his group, retooled at the Trade Deadline, will be able to bounce back.

“These guys, they always have,” Snitker said. “I don’t know why they won’t now, quite honestly. This team’s capable of going out and starting a four- or five-game winning streak tomorrow.”

Morton, who recorded the final out of the 2017 World Series for the Astros, knows a thing or two about the postseason push. He doesn’t sound concerned about the evaporating division lead just yet.

“It’s as simple as putting some innings together, then putting some games together and then just getting back in that good spot that we were in,” Morton said. “I don’t think we’re in a bad spot. But here we are, what’s today’s date? We got 14 games left, something like that? Fifteen games?

“This is an exciting time. This is a fun time. You can get the sense that we’re close. I think it’s just, lean on each other to finish out the season strong and hopefully take the division.”

The Braves are still in the driver’s seat to clinch their fourth straight NL East title, but the teams in the rearview mirror are getting closer.