Mark Bradley

Mark Bradley is a sports columnist and blogger for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

The puny Braves suffer a most sobering loss to L.A.

One picture, one hundred thousand words. (Curtis Compton/AJC)

I admit it. For a minute or two Monday, my thoughts, such as they are, got ahead of my brain, such as it is. News arrived that the Dodgers had bumped Zack Greinke back a day -- meaning the Atlanta Braves would face neither of L.A.'s two great pitchers in this four-game series -- collided with the belief that the Braves would have much the better of the pitching matchup in Monday's Game 1. Which spawned this scenario:

Braves win Monday behind the All-Star Julio Teheran. Braves beat the beatable Dan Haren on Tuesday and the eminently beatable Roberto Hernandez on Thursday to take the series, and maybe they even get lucky against Hyun-Jin Ryu on Wednesday and sweep the darned thing. Who's with me?

After further review, I offer two words: Never mind.

The Braves went with their best pitcher against Kevin Correia, who'd just been acquired from Minnesota and who was 5-13 with an ERA of 4.94. They managed one run in six innings against him. The Dodgers mustered five in 7 1/3 off Teheran, who wasn't hit hard -- only the last of their 10 hits was for extra bases -- but that was way too many on a night when the guys behind him weren't helping. (Though Teheran can blame no one but himself for Correia's two singles, the second of which fueled the winning rally.)

The improbable double-play tandem of Ramiro Pena and Emilio Bonifacio messed up two double plays, which goes to show that the tiniest flutter can have outsize consequences. Second baseman Tommy La Stella pulled up chasing Carl Crawford's grounder in the second. At first it appeared he'd pulled a hamstring. Turned out he had a cramp, but Fredi Gonzalez chose to err on the side of caution. The manager moved Bonifacio, starting at shortstop because Andrelton Simmons is mending, to second and inserted Pena at short.

Surely Simmons and La Stella would have turned one if not both of those unmade double plays. Moot point now. The sixth inning, in which the Dodgers needed five hits to score three runs, was bad. The eighth, in which the Dodgers scored three runs on two hits, was among the season's messiest. It included a Pena error, two Juan Jaime wild pitches and an Evan Gattis passed ball. It also marked the second failure in three games by James Russell, the left-hander imported at the trade deadline to get out lefties.

Except that the Braves appear to have hired the one lefty who can't get out lefties. They're hitting .314 against him. (Righties are hitting .113. Is it possible he's throwing with the wrong arm?) On Saturday night/Sunday morning, Russell was summoned to face Bryce Harper, whom he walked to load the bases in the fateful 11th inning. On Monday, he was dispatched to face Carl Crawford, who nudged an RBI single into center.

What makes this untenable is that Russell is their only lefty reliever. Luis Avilan is with Gwinnett. Johnny Venters might not pitch a real inning this season. Eric O'Flaherty works for the Oakland A's. Good grief.

If anything was made evident Monday night, it was how thin the Braves' roster has become. Losing three starting pitchers to arm surgery didn't help, and neither -- duh -- did the abject failure of Dan Uggla or the ongoing thrill-ride that is B.J. Upton. The difference between teams was brought into sharp relief in the eighth inning, when Andre Ethier was called to pinch-hit against poor imprecise Jaime. (Ethier walked. Jaime needed 32 pitches to work two-thirds of an inning.)

The Dodgers, see, are so gifted that Ethier, who was twice an All-Star and who drove in 89 runs in 2012, has become a fourth outfielder. The Braves don't even have three. (The aforementioned thrill-ride doesn't qualify, seeing as how his WAR rating is minus-0.9.) Against a team like the Dodgers -- even the Dodgers without Hanley Ramirez -- the Braves look puny. It's no wonder they're 0-4 versus L.A.

I learned a while back not to make too much of any one baseball game, for the simple reason that there are so many of them. On a night like Monday, I had to keep reminding myself of that little snippet of received wisdom. It was an awful showing for the local nine, who can't afford to lose many more to the Dodgers or to anybody. It was only one game, but it was a mighty ominous one.

From Next on the Braves' agenda - what to do with B.J. Upton.

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About the Author

Mark Bradley is a sports columnist and blogger for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. He has been with the AJC since 1984.