06/23/07 9:21 PM ET
Braves end drought but fall to Tigers
Chipper snaps Atlanta's 31-inning scoreless streak
By Mark Bowman / MLB.com
While they've already surpassed the six-win total they posted last June, this has still been a month filled with frustration, much of which has been created by the fact that they've spent most of the past 10 days being baffled by many of the hurlers who will be representing the American League at next month's All-Star Game.
The imposing run began on June 14, when they were given the assignment of solving reigning AL Cy Young Award winner Johan Santana. In the days that have followed, they've faced C.C. Sabathia, Josh Beckett and Justin Verlander, three of the legitimate candidates who could take that award from Santana this year.
"We haven't missed anybody's No. 1 [starter] in the last week to 10 days," Chipper Jones said. "You're just not going to mount much of anything against them."
Jones' fourth-inning leadoff homer was the only offense the Braves were able to mount against Verlander in Saturday afternoon's 2-1 loss to the Tigers at Turner Field. While the one run wasn't enough to prevent the reality of a four-game losing streak, it was enough to put an end to an ugly scoreless streak that had reached 31 consecutive innings.
"I'm glad that the drought is over," said Jones, who has hit .424 since coming off the disabled list on June 12. "It's been weighing on a lot of people. But still it's very little consolation when we continue to lose."
After losing for the eighth time in their past 11 home games, the Braves' clubhouse was filled with some tension. Brian McCann's disputed called third strike in the ninth inning had led to home-plate umpire Chad Fairchild issuing Braves manager Bobby Cox his 131st career ejection -- moving him into a tie for the all-time Major League record with Hall of Fame manager John McGraw.
At the same time, Jones was busy trying to defend himself against what he and many media members had deemed to be a challenge from John Smoltz. But Smoltz said his comments following Friday night's series-opening loss weren't directed towards the veteran third baseman, who had not played because of discomfort in his right groin region.
These soap-opera-like episodes are rare for this Braves organization, which hasn't exactly experienced too many droughts like this current one, during which they've scored just one run in 38 innings. But the troubles began long before this week. Over the course of their past 11 home games, they've been limited to one run or fewer seven times.
"We're just not swinging the bats, up and down the lineup," said McCann, who has seen the Braves hit just .230 in their 13 home games this month. "I don't know how to explain it. But we're just not swinging the bats at all."
Facing Verlander, who is 4-0 with a 1.24 ERA in four starts this month, wasn't exactly the recipe for a slump buster. The 24-year-old right-hander, who mixes a hard curveball with a regular array of 98 mph fastballs, allowed the Braves four hits and just the one run in seven innings. Jeff Francoeur accounted for two of those hits with a pair of singles.
"Nobody is going to hit Verlander very much, I'm telling you," Cox said. "There were some better swings today. I thought Andruw [Jones], even though he didn't get any [hits], swung a lot better today."
While going hitless in two at-bats, Andruw Jones saw his batting average dip to .198. But that was of little concern for the Braves, who realized they'd just squandered a strong effort from Kyle Davies, who limited a potent Tigers lineup to two earned runs and three hits over 6 1/3 innings. He was forced to exit with a strained left oblique injury that he hopes is minor enough to allow him to make his next start.
"Kyle pitched awesome," McCann said. "We're just not playing good baseball. When we're pitching, we're not hitting, and when we're hitting, we're not pitching."
Davies surrendered a fourth-inning leadoff homer to Carlos Guillen, who had also scored the game's first run in the second inning, when Fairchild ruled he slid under McCann's tag while scoring from second base on a Sean Casey single to right.
While Fairchild wasn't exactly a popular figure in the Braves' clubhouse, Davies put himself in a bad position during that second inning, in which he registered three of his six strikeouts. He had an 0-2 count on Guillen before issuing him a one-out walk. One batter later, he grazed Ivan Rodriguez with a 1-2 pitch. That set the stage for Casey to deliver his RBI single.
Davies was nearly spared losing a fourth straight start when Matt Diaz began the eighth inning with a double. But Diaz was left stranded at second when Fernando Rodney ended the eighth by getting Chipper Jones to hit a long fly ball to left-center field.
It was just the continuation of a drought the Braves are hoping is nearing its end.
"We're not used to struggling this bad," Chipper Jones said. "We just can't stop the ball from rolling downhill."
Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.