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Staff troubles rendering Braves' offense moot

NEW YORK -- As manager Fredi Gonzalez spoke in a disheartened tone and closer Jason Grilli complained about questions media members asked Mike Foltynewicz following Sunday afternoon's 10-8 loss to the Mets, there was visible proof that the past few weeks have taken a toll on the Braves' psyche.

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Courtesy of a leaky bullpen that has been taxed by some recent subpar performances from starting pitchers, the Braves have now lost each of the past three games in which they have scored at least eight runs. They went 135-2 when tallying this total over the past six seasons (2009-14).

"Every aspect of our [offensive] game has been pretty solid," Gonzalez said. "We've just got to figure out how to keep the opposition from scoring runs."

The Braves have managed to go 4-8 while producing a .774 OPS and averaging five runs over their past 12 games. As the pitching staff has produced a 4.91 ERA over this same span, many of the concerns have been pointed in the direction of the relief corps. But the starting staff has not fared much better, producing a 5.07 ERA during the same stretch.

Rookie starter Foltynewicz extended his recent struggles on Sunday, when he allowed six runs (five earned) and nine hits -- including a pair of homers -- over 4 1/3 innings. His abbreviated outing opened the door for the combination of Brandon Cunniff and Luis Avilan to allow the Mets to erase a five-run deficit and claim the lead for good by the end of the sixth inning.

"When you play a team sport, there really is no time to do that," Braves second baseman Jace Peterson said. "If you are pointing fingers, it's kind of cliché and old school, but you've got more pointing back at you."

Still, when looking to place blame during this frustration-filled stretch, the easy target has been the bullpen, which has compiled a 5.89 ERA over the past 20 games. In the seven games an Atlanta starting pitcher has not completed at least six innings within this span, this relief corps has produced a 5.47 ERA. In the 13 other contests, it has produced a 6.23 ERA.

Given the small sample sizes involved in terms of innings, it might not be fair to point out these inflated ERAs. But however you cut it, the Braves have serious issues within a bullpen that has already accommodated 18 different relievers -- including veterans David Aardsma and Dana Eveland, who were signed last week after their former clubs did not have room for them at the Major League level.

"There's still more things to try," Gonzalez said. "There's more combinations and other stuff to try."

The Braves have toyed with the idea of promoting highly-regarded pitching prospects Matt Wisler or Manny Banuelos from Triple-A Gwinnett to strengthen their bullpen. As of early Sunday afternoon, it did not appear they were ready to imminently go that route. But the frustration that built over the few hours that followed certainly provided reason to at least reevaluate that option.

Mark Bowman is a reporter for
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