"It's the same story, it's just a different day," Braves first baseman Freddie Freeman said. "It's hard to win ballgames when you only score two runs. That's the name of the game for us the last few weeks."
For the first time since 2008, the Braves are heading into the regular season's final week with the realization that they have been all but eliminated from the postseason picture. With 13 losses in 17 September games, they have seen their tragic number drop to two. Consequently, they will be officially eliminated on Sunday, if they lose and the Pirates win.
Unfortunately, the Braves have been playing like a club that is just grinding out the remainder of the schedule. Before tallying a pair of eighth inning runs on Saturday night, they were staring at the possibility of being shut out for the third time in four games and the seventh time in the past 19 games. They have now scored two runs or fewer in eight of their past 12 games.
"I thought we had good at-bats up and down the lineup," Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez said. "But the first column is the one you worry about, the runs."
Mets starter Jon Niese had surrendered just four hits before allowing the Braves to notch three consecutive one-out singles in the eighth. Freeman greeted lefty reliever Josh Edgin with a two-run single. But Carlos Torres then ended the threat by retiring Justin Upton and Chris Johnson.
The Braves seemed to hit rock bottom last weekend, when they totaled six runs while getting swept by the Rangers. But they have seemingly fallen further as they have scored in just three of the 44 innings they have batted during this homestand.
"We hit the ball hard all night," Freeman said. "I think it's just one of those weeks, months or years where nothing is falling our way."
The primary difference with this latest script and most of the others the Braves have played out recently centered on the fact that Saturday's offensive woes did not squander yet another strong start. This stemmed from the fact that Mike Minor lasted just one inning before left shoulder discomfort forced him to head to the clubhouse for further evaluation.
Minor will learn more about his status as he meets with Braves doctors within the next few days. He is hopeful that he is not dealing with a serious ailment.
"I could tell in warmups," Minor said. "I just thought it would get a little better as I threw my bullpen or when a batter steps in there you get that adrenaline and the [pain] goes away a little bit. Tonight, it didn't. Every pitch, I could feel something."
Minor issued a walk, hit Daniel Murphy with a pitch and surrendered a Lucas Duda sacrifice fly during his short stint.
Forced to take over on short notice, David Hale was fortunate that he surrendered just two runs in the second inning. Hale gave up hits to each of the first four batters he faced. But because Curtis Granderson was thrown out attempting to score on an Eric Campbell single, Dilson Herrera's two-run homer served as the only the damage.
The early three-run cushion proved to be more than enough for Niese, who left leadoff hitter Emilio Bonifacio stranded at second twice within the first three innings. After Bonifacio doubled with one out in the third inning, Phil Gosselin struck out and Freeman grounded out.
"We've just got to keep going up there and grinding it out," Freeman said. "Obviously, we're coming down to the end, but you've still got to keep fighting and grinding it out until Game 162 is over."