ATLANTA -- While they have spent the past six months exceeding expectations, the Braves have prided themselves as being a determined bunch with the offensive firepower necessary to consistently create late-inning excitement.But as this final homestand has gone on and they close in on the opportunity to celebrate a season
ATLANTA -- While they have spent the past six months exceeding expectations, the Braves have prided themselves as being a determined bunch with the offensive firepower necessary to consistently create late-inning excitement.
But as this final homestand has gone on and they close in on the opportunity to celebrate a season that few predicted, the Braves have too often suffered a late-inning punch similar to the one that sealed their fate in Tuesday night's 8-1 loss to the Cardinals at SunTrust Park.
"You're going to go through your rough spots over 162 games," first baseman Freddie Freeman said. "These past four games have been a little rough, but we've got two weeks to figure it out."
A little more than two weeks from now, the postseason will begin. Whether the Braves get to participate will depend on how they recover from their current four-game losing streak, which has immediately followed the six-game winning streak that gave fans hope to celebrate a division title at home.
With 11 games to play, the Braves have a 5 1/2-game lead over the Phillies in the National League East, and their magic number to clinch the division stands at seven. This is a pretty fortunate position, considering they have lost 14 of their past 18 home games.
The Braves are no strangers to late-game magic, but their bid for more has been made more challenging by the bullpen, which has allowed a one-run deficit grow in the sixth inning or later of each of the past four games.
"Your job as a reliever is to come in and keep the game where it's at," veteran Jonny Venters said. "That game right there tonight, we were in it up until that eighth inning. I try to go out there with the mindset every night to get the outs I'm supposed to get and keep the game where it is. I just didn't do it today."
Anibal Sanchez provided the Braves yet another strong start, exiting his six-inning effort with Paul DeJong's two-run homer accounting for the only damage. But the 2-1 deficit the Braves faced at the end of seven ballooned during the Cards four-run eighth, which was fueled by Venters walking Matt Carpenter and allowing Jose Martinez to double off the left-field wall.
Dan Winkler surrendered a RBI single to DeJong and walked Marcell Ozuna to load the bases. Enter Sam Freeman, who struck out pinch-hitter Patrick Wisdom before Yadier Molina delivered the dagger with a single that scored three runs when the ball went under left fielder Ronald Acuna Jr.'s glove.
"Again, it was a couple walks, and we just couldn't stop the bleeding the one inning," manager Brian Snitker said. "With the one-run deficit, we definitely have a chance to win the game. But when we let that thing spread, it's tough to come back from that."
The acquisition of Venters and Brad Brach at the non-waiver Trade Deadline has prevented the bullpen from faltering as frequently as it did as July neared an end. But dating back to Aug. 1, Atlanta's relief corps has a 4.14 ERA, a figure that has been inflated after this group allowed 16 earned runs over the 18 1/3 innings in the past four games.
"We've just got to trust our stuff and go right at guys," Venters said. "I think we'll be fine. Tomorrow is a new day. Hopefully, we'll get out there and get it done."
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED
Acuna gave the Braves a 1-0 lead with the homer he hit over the Braves' bullpen to begin the bottom of the third. Cardinals left-hander Austin Gomber encountered more trouble in the inning when he surrendered Nick Markakis' double and then issued consecutive walks within a span of eight pitches, but he ended the threat by getting Ender Inciarte to fly out to center field.
"Just one of those days where there was a lot of traffic on bases, but you have to figure out a way to get out of it," Gomber said.
Acuna now has 26 home runs, the fifth-highest total in a season by a player before turning 21. Ahead of him are Mel Ott (42 in 1929) Frank Robinson (34 in 1956), Tony Conigliaro (32 in 1965) and Al Kaline (27 in 1955).
HOME vs. ROAD
Much has been made of the fact that the Braves have a better road record (45-30) than home record (38-38). But through Aug. 15, they were 34-24 at home and 34-27 on the road.
Their recent road success has been influenced by the fact they have played the Pirates, Marlins, D-backs and Giants over the past month. During this same span, their home opponents have been the Rockies, Rays, Cubs, Pirates, Red Sox, Nationals and Cardinals.
The only team to make the postseason with a losing home record during a non-strike season is the 2001 Braves, who were 40-42 at Turner Field.
HE SAID IT
"We've been down this road before, a few times this year. All it takes is one game to get you rolling and get you back on a run. We've been resilient. We've come back before. There's no reason to think we won't do it again. Guys just got to relax, play their game and let it fly." -- Snitker
MITEL REPLAY OF THE DAY
Sanchez produced one of the niftiest defensive plays of the night in the fifth, when he scooped Gomber's safety squeeze attempt and flipped it out of his glove toward catcher Kurt Suzuki, who denied Kolten Wong's attempt to score. The Cardinals challenged that Suzuki was blocking the plate, but the call was upheld after a 23-second review.
Touki Toussaint will take the mound when the Braves and Cardinals conclude their three-game series on Wednesday at 12:10 p.m. ET. Toussaint has made a good impression through his first three career starts, and he kept the D-backs scoreless before exiting during a two-run sixth on Sept. 9. St. Louis will counter with Jack Flaherty, who has a 1.69 ERA over his past eight starts.
Mark Bowman has covered the Braves for MLB.com since 2001.