HOUSTON – After getting a lead for the first time in 53 innings over eight days, the skidding Braves managed to keep it for just one inning.
Freddie Freeman and Adonis Garcia hit home runs in the fourth inning for a 2-1 lead, but Jaime Garcia gave up three runs in the fifth, and the Astros completed a two-game sweep with a 4-2 win at Minute Made Park that extended the Braves’ losing streak to six games, matching a season high.
The Braves trailed by two runs when they loaded the bases in the eighth inning before Matt Kemp struck out against reliever Will Harris to end the inning, their third strikeout of the inning with runners in scoring position.
“I swung at those first two pitches that were balls. Maybe if I don’t and get in a better count ….” Kemp said. “He got me right there. I have to come through for my team right there. I let the team down. Like I said, we’ve got to get those big hits. We get something going right there, maybe it’ll get us back on track.
“But we’re just not getting those timely hits and getting runners in. We’re not doing anything right at the moment.”
The Braves (11-20) have lost eight of nine since a four-game winning streak, while the American League West-leading Astros won for the eighth time in 10 games and improved to 23-11, the best 34-game start in franchise history.
“One day we pitch well and we don’t hit. One day we hit well and don’t pitch,” Kemp said. “We’ve just all got to get on the same page. We have a great baseball team, we’re just not playing good right now. We’re definitely better than our record. We feel like we’re better that our record, but we’re just not getting the job done.”
The Braves were 0-for-5 with runners in scoring position, including eighth-inning strikeouts by Ender Inciarte and Brandon Phillips with two on and Kemp after Freeman walked to load the bases. Inciarte also struck out with two runners on and one out in the third inning.
“Big situation, I think you would want Matt Kemp up with the bases loaded,” Freeman said. “If that happens again Friday (series opener at Miami) we’re going to want him up there again in the same situation. As much as we want to be able to do it every single time, it’s baseball, we’re not going to be able to do it every time.”
Braves manager Brian Snitker said, “Just getting a hit, putting the ball in play. It’s a rough go right now on everything, when you get right down to it. We’ve just got to keep grinding and working. Eventually you handle something like this and good things will happen on the other end of it.”
Jaime Garcia (1-2) gave up six hits, four runs and five walks — his second consecutive five-walk game — in six innings and was undermined by ongoing issues with two-out damage and struggles facing a lineup the third time through.
“Today is going to be a tough one to swallow for me,” said the former Cardinals left-hander, who fell to 3-7 with a 6.36 ERA in 10 starts vs. Houston. “I felt pretty good physically, felt like I was in control of the game. That’s a good lineup. I didn’t control the game with two out; all the runs they scored were with two outs. Just got to do a better job with that.”
Garcia snapped a string of seven consecutive games in which the Braves had given up at least one run in the first inning, and he retired the first eight batters before Jake Marisnick’s two-out single in the third inning. Marisnick stole second base, and George Springer followed with an RBI single to put the Braves in familiar position — trailing early.
Freeman’s leadoff homer in the fourth inning was his 12th in the team’s 31st game. Last season he hit his 12th home run in the team’s 65th game and finished with a career-high 34 homers.
Two outs later, Adonis Garcia’s fourth homer gave the Braves a 2-1 lead, the first time they led since the end of a May 2 win against the Mets.
Jaime Garcia worked out of trouble in the fourth after a two-out throwing error by third baseman Adonis Garcia and a Marwin Gonzalez single put runners on the corners. But his two-out troubles flared again an inning later in the fifth.
He gave up a leadoff walk before inducing a double play. Then Carlos Beltran’s two-out single began a decisive stretch against Garcia, who walked the next batter, Jose Altuve, before Carlos Correa pulled a line-drive two-run double to the left-field corner for a 3-2 Astros lead.
Former Braves catcher Evan Gattis followed with another walk before Yuli Gurriel’s single pushed the lead to 4-2.
“I was able to make pitches, for the most part, against a really good lineup that’s playing well,” Garcia said. “I take (responsibility) for this one. I’ve just got to do a better job on that next time. … I didn’t execute the pitch when I needed to on two strikes, and they did a good job laying off pitches close to the strike zone. You’ve got to limit the innings. With two outs they did a lot. That’s not acceptable on my part.”
Garcia has allowed eight runs in the fifth inning, more than twice as many as any other inning. That reflects his struggles the third time facing opposing hitters, who were batting .281 with a 1.017 OPS in their third plate appearances against him before Wednesday, compared with a .615 OPS the first time through and .608 the second time.
“It’s one inning all the time,” Snitker said. “He did a good job, got the double-play balls, it’s just the guy (Correa) won that battle right there. Two-out hits.”
“(Jaime Garcia) looked great. He just had that one bad inning,” Freeman said. “He walked three guys in that inning. Walks are going to kill you. But he gave us six innings. If you have one bad inning, we still should have a chance to win a game. He gave us a chance. That’s all you can ask for.”