CINCINNATI -- Now that the Braves have been given reason to feel good about their rotation, they find themselves burdened by a suddenly slumbering offense.
Instead of extending Luis Castillo’s woes at Great American Ball Park on Saturday afternoon, the Braves continued to struggle with their bats in a 4-1 loss to the Reds. Guillermo Heredia’s two-out RBI single in the eighth inning prevented Atlanta from being shut out for the first time since being blanked on both ends of an April 25 doubleheader against the D-backs.
The Braves have hit the second-most homers among National League teams, but their status as one of the league’s top run-producing clubs has slipped as they have scored three runs or fewer in nine straight games, going back to Sunday’s doubleheader against the Cardinals.
This is their longest such streak since scoring three runs or fewer over 10 straight games from July 22-Aug. 1, 2015.
Even with Travis d’Arnaud injured and Marcell Ozuna dealing with his legal issues, this Braves' offense shouldn’t be matching the futility of that rebuilding 2015 club. With Ronald Acuña Jr., Freddie Freeman, Ozzie Albies and Austin Riley at the top, this year’s lineup is one that still has plenty of firepower.
But this has been a maddening year for Atlanta, which managed to get swept in a two-game series against the Red Sox despite scoring eight runs in both games. The club tallied nine more runs against the Cardinals two nights later, but the nine games that have followed have been filled with frustration.
“There have been a lot of balls hit really hard and we can’t keep the line moving,” Braves manager Brian Snitker said. “We’re making good contact here and there.”
Castillo limited the Braves to six hits over seven scoreless innings. The former All-Star has pitched better of late, particularly during a strong run in June, but he entered the contest 2-10 with a 5.61 ERA.
Acuña gave the Braves a spark with a one-out double in the third. Freeman followed with a walk. But that threat ended when Riley’s 109.9 mph liner found third baseman Eugenio Suárez's glove. Atlanta’s only other true scoring threat ended when Heredia was thrown out attempting to score from first on William Contreras’ double in the sixth.
“You’ve got to try to create your own luck,” Riley said. “It’s one of those things where you’ve got to go out there and keep playing the game. At some point, I feel like it’s got to turn for us for the better.”
Acuña produced a 111.1 mph groundout on the game’s first pitch and Dansby Swanson produced a 101.8 mph exit velocity when he grounded out ahead of Heredia’s sixth-inning single. The Braves certainly produced strong contact for most of the afternoon, but they didn’t find enough holes or good fortune to overcome the three runs Ian Anderson allowed over an encouraging six-inning effort.
The Braves have batted .135 (7-for-52) with runners in scoring position over their past nine games. But they’ve hit just .190 overall during this stretch. So, while there’s been some bad luck, this has for the most part just been a bad stretch for the offense.
“We’ve been through it more than once this year where we just can’t get the big hit or keep the line moving,” Snitker said. “Sometimes, if we do, we hit a ball right at somebody. I can’t explain it. It’s one of those things in the game. It’s one of those odd things that keeps us all coming back.”