Morton, Braves stumble into curious history

August 1st, 2021

ATLANTA -- While alternating wins and losses for more than two weeks, one could say the Braves have become maddeningly predictable. But an optimist could look at the caliber of competition faced since the All-Star break and say the defending National League East champs will be just fine.

As Atlanta bid adieu to one of the most challenging portions of its schedule with a 2-1 loss to the Brewers on Sunday at Truist Park, its upgraded lineup didn’t sufficiently support . It was an all-too-familiar loss for a team that hopes to finally get on a roll as the schedule proves less challenging over the next few weeks.

The Braves have gone 8-9 against five playoff contenders -- the Rays, Padres, Phillies, Mets and Brewers -- since the All-Star break. They exit this stretch just as they entered it, four games behind the first-place Mets in the National League East.

“This was a gauntlet we went through, mentally, physically and the competition,” Atlanta manager Brian Snitker said. “We’re going to end the day where we started, which is good because that thing could have gone sideways with the teams we were playing.”

With the Trade Deadline acquisitions of , , and right-handed reliever , the Braves are at least a more formidable group than they were when they went through this stretch without , who is recovering from season-ending right knee surgery, and veteran catcher , who could return from the injured list within the next two weeks.

But Atlanta has not had a winning record this season, and it has now set an MLB record by not recording the same result in 16 consecutive games. This streak will be erased when the team resumes its July 21 suspended game against the Padres on Sept. 24. Still, it’s fitting this team that has been stuck in mediocrity will have at least briefly held this distinction.

“It’s just really, really weird, and it’s been a kind of a weird year,” Braves starter said. “But it’s the same story. We just need to get on a run. We’re playing good baseball. We’re in games and we’re not really going on bad stretches. So, I don’t know really.”

Atlanta will spend its next 18 games playing the Cardinals, Nationals, Reds, Marlins and Orioles. With Cincinnati the only member of the group with a winning record, this seems to be a prime opportunity for the Braves to make a run. But they’ll need consistent production from the revamped offense that managed just one run against Brett Anderson and four Brewers relievers on Sunday.

The offense’s limited production in this series finale squandered a fine effort by Morton, who allowed three hits and two runs over six innings. The veteran hurler left a cutter up in the zone that former Rays teammate Willy Adames drilled over the fence in the first inning, and he surrendered Jackie Bradley Jr.’s RBI groundout in the fourth.

This was an extension of success by Morton, who has produced a 2.73 ERA over his past nine starts. But for the first time since losing, 1-0, to the Marlins on Oct. 2, 1999, Atlanta managed to lose a game after allowing three or fewer baserunners. Prior to Sunday, the Brewers’ most recent win when producing three baserunners or fewer was a 1-0 victory over Cleveland on Aug. 31, 1978.

“We were kind of a big hit away,” Snitker said. “We got some big hits, put ourselves in position and couldn’t finish the deal.”

’s RBI single in the sixth accounted for the only run charged to Brewers starter Brett Anderson over 5 2/3 innings. After surrendering Riley’s single, John Curtiss had to face , who had hit a grand slam off the Brewers’ new reliever on Saturday. But Curtiss won this latest showdown when Swanson’s 99.8 mph liner found Jackie Bradley Jr.’s glove at the right-field warning track.

Tough luck also found , who recorded a pair of 100 mph-plus exit velocities on lineouts. Duvall found his own misfortune when his 107.4 mph liner to begin the bottom of the fifth was hit directly at Adames.

“That’s baseball,” Snitker said. “That’s what happens. When you’re on a roll and you’ve won five in a row, those all drop.”

With the bolstered lineup, the reinforcements set to come back from the injured list and the friendlier schedule that awaits, the Braves might finally find what has been a very elusive string of success. They last produced a season-best four-game winning streak in May. But they also haven’t lost more than four games in a row during this weird season that has been thus far filled with mediocrity.

“This anomaly of the win and the loss [streak] is kind of a microcosm of the season as a whole, because we just haven’t been able to get a ton of momentum,” Morton said. “The silver lining is we really haven’t gone the wrong way. So, we’re still in the fight.”