As the Braves approached .500 near the All-Star break, it became less and less clear the route they would be taking at the trade deadline. Would this be the year they bundle up some prospects in their outstanding farm for a game changing talent? A series sweep of the D-Backs to begin the season’s second half only raised the question even more, but it would be all downhill from there.
Atlanta welcomed the defending champions, Chicago Cubs, for the first time to SunTrust Park. It’s safe to say they enjoyed their time here, teeing off on Braves pitching on their way to a three game sweep. A four-game set with the MLB’s best Los Angeles Dodgers was not what the Braves needed, but they headed out their anyways needing at least a couple of wins to realistically stay in the playoff race.
Surpisingly, the Braves jumped all over the Dodgers in games one and two, including a clobbering of former Brave Alex Wood. However, they were unable to steal the series losing the final two games and headed to Arizona to face Zach Grienke, who was undefeated at home. That did not change either, as Grienke went eight strong against Atlanta, allowing just two runs in 10-2 victory for the Diamondbacks.
Kurt Suzuki powered the Braves back in the second game of the series with two home runs. Suzuki has been the hottest Braves hitter in the month of July, batting .375 with 7 home runs and 12 RBIs in just 10 games played. That would be the only good news the Braves had all week.
Aaron Blair started the rubber match with Arizona, and boy is it about time he never sees the bigs again. He was awful over three innings, walking five batters and allowing five earned runs. His start did not even give the Braves a chance to win, as they left Arizona 10-3 losers.
Atlanta would head to Philadelphia, a bit of a breather, after such a tough stretch of opponents. The Phillies have the worst record in baseball, but came in winners of six of their last ten behind an improving offense. That offense showed it’s improvements in the opener versus Julio Teheran. The long ball was once again Teheran’s main issue. After four innings of one run ball, the Phillies busted out in the fifth inning for seven runs, including three home runs. Like Blair, Teheran did not even give the Braves a chance to win, and they would lose by the same score, 10-3.
At this point, the Braves could feel their entire season slipping through their fingertips. The playoffs were looking dimmer and dimmer with every passing day, but they still had three opportunities to play the Phillies, and perhaps turn their season around before it was too late.
They would get that chance Saturday night, as they jumped out to a 2-0 lead in the first inning. Sean Newcomb pitched solidly for the first time in five starts, giving up just a single run over five innings. It should have been enough to earn the victory, but this Braves bullpen, that has an ERA of around seven in the month of July, came back to haunt them again.
Arodys Vizcaino allowed a leadoff triple to score in the eighth to cut the lead in half. Jim Johnson then relieved Vizcaino with a one-run lead in the ninth. Johnson’s struggles continued when Obdubal Herrera smacked a game-tying home-run off of him with one out. The game was heading to extras, and none of Braves country was very confident. After a couple of clean frames, Ty Kelly would have an opportunity to end the game with two outs and the bases loaded in the eleventh. Despite having a batting average below the Mendoza line, Kelly walked the Phillies off in style with a single. The best the Braves could hope for now was a split.
And they will not even be getting that. Atlanta’s bats were quiet again on Sunday, scoring just a single run through eight innings. That would be enough to keep them in a tie with the Phillies, but relying on this Braves bullpen for very long is not a recipe for success. In their second inning of relief, with the game on the line, they failed to even record an out before loading the bases for Freddy Galvis. Galvis delivered with his third hit of the game, walking the Phillies off for the second night in a row.
The Braves have now slipped into a tie for third in the division, 14 games back of the Nationals. And it is not much better in the Wild Card either, as they sit 10.5 games back of the Rockies and 11 games back of the D-Backs. The playoffs are nothing more than a dream for Atlanta, and the team is now looking to sell some of it’s veteran pieces. They are not out of the market for cost-controlled pitching, but their main priorities will be finding new homes for guys like Brandon Phillips and Jim Johnson before the deadline strikes a 4 ET on Monday.