Frustrated Braves silenced by Nats
Atlanta leaves bases loaded twice as Jurrjens takes the loss
ATLANTA -- As Brian McCann slammed his helmet into the ground, it was easy to feel his frustration and the sense of urgency that he and his teammates are facing. Although August has yet to arrive, the Braves know their clock is ticking and that they don't have the luxury of wasting many more opportunities.
To say the Braves squandered multiple opportunities during Saturday night's 8-2 loss to the Nationals at Turner Field might provide an unjust harsh description. But at the same time, this statement would certainly qualify as a cruel truth that adds to the misery of their tough season.
"We can't hit the ball any better than we did tonight with men on base," Braves manager Bobby Cox said. "If they run them down, we can't do anything about that."
If they weren't fighting to prove they should be buyers instead of sellers before the July 31 trade deadline, it might have been easier for the Braves to play the what-if game after losing to the last-place Nationals for the sixth time in 10 matchups this year.
Had Greg Norton not left the bases loaded in the fourth with a fly ball that carried Nationals center fielder Willie Harris to the warning track, things certainly might have been different. The same could be said in reference to McCann, whose frustration-felt helmet slam came after he ended the fifth inning with a bases-loaded lineout that went directly to a perfectly positioned Austin Kearns in right field.
"If those balls fall in, we could have won," Cox said. "Even if just one of them fell in, we might have won."
While sitting in fourth place and facing a 6 1/2-game deficit in the National League East race, the Braves don't have time to consistently think about "What might have been?" They have just 10 more games to play before the trade deadline, and without near-perfection during this stretch, they may be forced to concede the season by trading the likes of first baseman Mark Teixeira and left-handed reliever Will Ohman.
"This just wasn't our night," Teixeira said. "If we would have just lost by one run, we could have blamed it on those at-bats when we hit it right at somebody. But we kind of got our butts kicked."
This certainly wasn't the greatest night for Jair Jurrjens, who allowed five earned runs and eight hits in 6 1/3 innings. Still, the 22-year-old right-hander managed to keep the Braves within striking distance until allowing a couple of former Braves -- Ryan Langerhans and Willie Harris -- to highlight a two-run seventh inning that gave the Nationals a 5-1 lead.
Langerhans' second double of the evening began the seventh inning, and then two batters later, Harris, who is hitting .454 (10-for-22) against the Braves this year, highlighted his first three-hit game of the season with an RBI triple that managed to just stay fair along the right-field line.
"We didn't have luck tonight," said Jurrjens, who refused to use the fact that he was pitching for the first time since July 8 as an excuse.
Jurrjens' misfortune actually began during a three-run third inning, which was sparked by Harris' leadoff single. Paul Lo Duca then fisted an inside fastball along the right-field line for a double. To add to the inning's frustration, Cristian Guzman delivered an RBI triple that sailed directly over Jeff Francoeur's head in right field.
"I think they had a little bit of luck that inning," Jurrjens said. "I think I made my pitches that inning."
While limiting the Braves to one earned run and seven hits in six innings, Nationals starter John Lannan received some rare luck on a couple of different fronts. This was his Major League rookie-best 14th quality start of the season. The fact that this was just his sixth win of the season was a product of the fact that the Nationals had scored one run or less in nine of his previous 18 starts.
By tallying three eighth-inning runs off Royce Ring, the Nationals provided Lannan even more run support. While this overdue support was much appreciated, the rookie left-hander had to credit this victory to the escape acts he enjoyed in the fourth and fifth innings.
Teixeira and McCann contributed consecutive two-out singles to help load the bases before Norton ended the fourth inning with his long fly ball. Then in the fifth inning, a one-out walk to Jurrjens provided the spark that allowed Atlanta to load the bases for a second straight inning.
Sticking with the ugly theme of the evening, the Braves' only run came during that fifth inning, when Chipper Jones delivered an RBI single through the right side of the infield. Jurrjens heeded third-base coach Brian Snitker's call to stay at third base. But when Gregor Blanco made a wide turn at second and was coming toward third, Jurrjens raced toward the plate and was fortunate that Kearns' throw skipped under catcher Johnny Estrada.
After Teixeira was walked, McCann, who had five hits in his previous 10 at-bats with the bases loaded, hit his fateful liner right at Kearns. Almost immediately, the All-Star catcher slammed his helmet hard enough that it bounced and spun its way nearly back to the on-deck circle.
"We've got to start winning games," McCann said. "We can't do anything about tonight."
If the losing continues, it won't be long before the Braves won't even be able to look forward to any tomorrows.
Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.