Bats quiet in series-finale loss to Phils
Lowe allows four earned runs, victimized by costly error
ATLANTA -- Losing an early-season series to a chief division rival certainly does not indicate pending doom. But if the Braves continue to struggle from an offensive standpoint, there really won't be any reason for them to worry about the fact that they allowed the Phillies to leave Atlanta this week in their familiar spot atop the National League East standings.
What began with a thrilling series-opening victory evolved into a three-day stretch that highlighted some of the glaring holes in Atlanta's lineup. While they had no problem tipping their caps to Roy Halladay on Wednesday night, the Braves walked away from Thursday night's 8-3 loss to the Phils wondering how Jamie Moyer had proved every bit as frustrating as Kyle Kendrick had been just two days earlier.
"It's worrisome," Chipper Jones said. "We've got certain guys that are swinging the bat well, and certain sections of the lineup that are swinging the bat well, and others that are just struggling right now. We've got to stand by them and help them through this period."
The Braves have hit just .214 over the course of their past 10 games, and during this week's three-game series, they did not score a single earned run in the 23 innings compiled by the Phillies' starting pitchers. Entering Thursday night's fifth inning, the only runs they had tallied in the series came courtesy of the three homers they hit after recording the second out in the ninth inning of Tuesday night's thrilling victory.
"A lot has to do with their defense," Jones said. "[Juan] Castro is playing shortstop like Ozzie Smith, and [Shane] Victorino is playing center field like Andruw Jones. You've got to get defensive contributions for your starters to hold a team without an earned run over three games. That's what we expect from them. They're a solid team. That's why they're two-time National League champs."
With hopes of ending Philadelphia's run of three consecutive NL East titles, Atlanta entered this season with the belief that it has one of the game's most dynamic shortstops. But while hitting just .203 through the first 15 games, Yunel Escobar has seemingly allowed his offensive woes to affect his all-around game.
An NL scout clocked Escobar at 4.54 seconds as he ran down the line with seemingly little intent to prevent the Phils from turning a key double play in the seventh inning of Wednesday night's game. Then during Thursday's decisive three-run third inning, Escobar was unable to handle Martin Prado's feed on a double play that would have ended the inning without Derek Lowe incurring any damage.
"It was a perfect double-play ball," manager Bobby Cox said. "I don't know what happened."
While the official scorer charged the error to Prado, some in Atlanta's clubhouse believed that Escobar took a bad route that prevented him from reacting to the double-play feed. Cox wasn't willing to assign blame, but there's seemingly a chance that Omar Infante will be the starting shortstop when the Braves open a three-game series against the Mets on Friday night.
"It was tailor-made," Jones said. "There's no doubt that was the biggest play of the game. It cost us three runs and kind of took us out of the game. But in the heat of battle, trying to be quick, sometimes an errant throw or missed catch, whatever ... those plays have to be made. You saw it on the other side, too. They flubbed one. Ours cost us a little more than theirs."
After his offense tallied five runs (four earned) and six hits in five innings against Lowe, Moyer allowed the Braves to cut the deficit to 5-2 with a pair of unearned runs that were assisted by Phils second baseman Chase Utley in the bottom of the fifth.
Utley, who had made Wednesday night's defensive play of the game, dropped a double-play feed and then, moments later, made an errant throw while attempting to turn a double play. Those accounted for the only runs surrendered by the 47-year-old Moyer, who allowed just four hits in six innings.
"I think with him, you know what you're going to get," Lowe said. "He knows how to pitch. When you look at the radar gun, you think, 'No way.' But he knows how to add and subtract just enough, and he knows how to throw in enough to keep you honest."
Escobar made things interesting with a sixth-inning double that gave the Braves runners at second and third with just one out. But Jason Heyward, who was born two years after Moyer made his first career appearance against Atlanta on May 23, 1987, looked at a called third strike before Melky Cabrera ended the threat with a weak pop fly.
When reminded that his eldest son is just two years younger than Atlanta's 20-year-old outfielder, Moyer said, "I hope [Heyward] listens to his teammates and his parents better than my oldest son."
Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.