Before Friday’s series opener against the Tigers degenerated into a lopsided loss and whiff-a-thon for Atlanta hitters against Anibal Sanchez, the Braves had several chances to take an early lead.
They wasted them all, underscoring a weakness that’s been overshadowed by early-season home runs: The Braves haven’t hit well with runners in scoring position. Again.
They were 0-for-5 with runners in scoring position in Friday’s 10-0 loss to Detroit, dropping their average in those situations to .215, third-lowest in the National League. Last season, the Braves and Cubs tied with a league-worst .231 average with runners in scoring position.
“It hasn’t been pretty all the time,” Braves hitting coach Greg Walker said Wednesday in Colorado, speaking of the offense in general. “I think one thing that’s going to get better is our hitting with runners in scoring position. It’s been horrific so far.”
On Friday, it was a scoreless game when Chris Johnson doubled with one out in the second inning. Evan Gattis struck out, B.J. Upton walked, and Juan Francisco struck out to end the inning.
There still was no score when Andrelton Simmons doubled with one out in the third. He advanced on a passed ball before Dan Uggla struck out and Justin Upton grounded out to end the inning, stranding him at third.
The Tigers scored four runs in the bottom of the third against left-hander Paul Maholm, then put the game away with six runs in the fourth.
The Braves went 0-for-4 with three strikeouts with runners in scoring position in the first three innings, illustrating two problematic areas: They’ve hit poorly with runners in scoring position, and they strike out at an alarming rate.
Uggla is 0-for-11 with six strikeouts with runners in scoring position, and B.J. Upton is 1-for-18 with eight strikeouts.
Sanchez collected a Tigers-record 17 strikeouts in eight innings, and the Braves’ 18 strikeouts were their most since an 18-K game against the Phillies on May 6, 2011, when Cliff Lee fanned 16 in seven innings.
“You have to turn the page,” Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez said before Saturday’s game. “All of us were upset (Friday). Nobody wants to get put in the record books for something like that. So everybody gets upset, and you have to go out today and get good plate appearances and go out and win.”
They struck out 10 more times in Saturday’s 7-4 loss to give them 28 strikeouts in two days against Detroit and 85 strikeouts in their past eight games, including six losses.
“We’ll try to get better at our weaknesses,” Walker said, “but I’m not going to tell Justin Upton to choke up and spread out (his stance) with two strikes. If there’s a man on third with less than two (outs) and he’s scuffling — hopefully he doesn’t — then he might have to back the ball up and just accept a sac fly, things like that. Become just a little bit more conservative.
“There’s times and places for conservatism, but we’re not going to turn our big guys into choke, poke and hope guys. We’re just not going to do it. Spread out and choke up — it’s just not our style. And I don’t think (general manager) Frank Wren or anybody in the Braves organization wants us to do that.
“If you look at our team so far, there’s been ugly moments, but there’s some real dynamic moments. I mean some stuff off-the-charts dynamic.”
Familiar foe: It didn’t make things any easier for Braves fans frustrated by Uggla’s slow start to see second baseman Omar Infante do considerable damage against Atlanta on Saturday. Infante was traded to the Marlins with reliever Mike Dunn in the November 2010 deal for Uggla.
Infante went 3-for-4 with an RBI double, a two-run homer and a stolen base Saturday for Detroit, and also had a double in Friday’s series opener.
“Infante’s done a good job against us,” Gonzalez said. “He’s gotten three or four hits and some big RBIs, like the one in the eighth inning. He seems to be a thorn in our side, even when he was playing with the Marlins.”
After going 2-for-29 in his first seven games against the Braves after they traded him, Infante is 21-for-64 (.328) with six extra-base hits, two homers and seven RBIs in his past 15 games against Atlanta.
The Marlins traded Infante and Sanchez to the Tigers on July 23, 2012, in exchange for minor leaguer Brian Flynn, Rob Brantly and Jacob Turner.