Another game, another low-scoring, close loss for the Braves.
After falling behind 4-0 after the Cardinals tallied three runs in the fifth inning and an additional run in the sixth, the Braves mounted a rally late, including a chance to tie or win the game with two runners on base in the 9th inning, but couldn't get the job done once again.
Aaron Harang had a middling outing, giving up four runs (although only two were technically earned) in six innings of work. After scattering three hits in the game's first four frames, St. Louis was able to surge ahead on the strength of a Matt Carpenter two-run double that scored Peter Bourjos and Mark Ellis, who reached on an uncharacteristic Andrelton Simmons error. Simmons appeared to rush a fairly routine ground ball, and never got a grip on it, putting the Cardinals in business with men on first and second and no outs in the top of the fifth. After Shelby Miller sacrificed the runners up a base, Carpenter hit a hard ground ball up the middle on a breaking ball and slid in safely to second after hustling to beat B.J. Upton's throw. Matt Holliday then added to the lead, singling home Carpenter after Chris Johnson allowed a ball to eat him up on a grounder that, frankly, should have been fielded. Harang didn't seem to have his best stuff or velocity tonight, but the defensive miscues behind him certainly didn't help.
Atlanta's recent woes with runners in scoring position continued tonight, although luck played a big role in the team's lack of success. The first unlucky play came in the bottom of the third inning. Ramiro Peña led off the inning with a ground rule double to center field, and Freddie Freeman came to the plate with two outs after Jason Heyward and Justin Upton struck out against Miller, only to scorch a line drive to deep center field that Bourjos tracked down with his excellent speed. The Braves then threatened briefly in the bottom of the fifth after Andrelton Simmons rapped a sharp single to the opposite field, and reached third base with two outs after Harang laid down a bunt and Peña got him over to third with a grounder to the right side. Jason Heyward scorched a line drive that was caught by Mark Ellis with a leaping try, and the Braves once again found themselves without any RISP luck.
The Cardinals added another run off of Harang via a Bourjos RBI single to pad their lead to 4-0, but the Braves escaped the frame after Andrelton Simmons made a heads-up play on a Yadier Molina grounder deep in the hole to force Bourjos at third in a two-out, bases loaded situation. Atlanta then joined in on the scoring fun with an Evan Gattis run-scoring single following a Justin Upton walk and a Freddie Freeman single to put the Braves on the board 4-1. Pat Neshek then relieved Miller, and the elder Upton brought Freeman home with a sac fly to slash St. Louis' lead to 4-2 at the end of the 6th.
After Anthony Varvaro hurled a perfect frame in the 7th, Atlanta drew even closer when Ramiro Peña hit his first ever Major League home run from the right side of the plate (yes, really), a solo shot off of Kevin Siegrist, to draw the Braves to within a run. Immediately following Peña's blast, Jason Heyward lined a one-out double to left field, but a Justin Upton strikeout and a Freddie Freeman groundout prevented him from coming around to tie the game.
Atlanta didn't threaten in the 8th inning, but strong relief outings from David Carpenter and Luis Ávilan kept the Cardinals at bay and the Braves within striking distance, still only down a run, headed into the bottom of the 9th frame. The situation appeared promising for Atlanta, as Andrelton Simmons took a 96-mile-per-hour fastball from Cardinals closer Trevor Rosenthal back up the middle for a leadoff single. Jordan Schafer was then brought on to waste an out, err, sacrifice Simmons up to second base, which he did successfully. Peña was unable to advance Simmons after flying out to shallow right, but Jason Heyward kept the game alive by working a five-pitch walk. The Braves' rally fell short, however, as Justin Upton was caught looking at a fastball down the pipe to strike out (he achieved the illustrious Golden Sombrero with four Ks on the day), assuring the team's seventh consecutive loss.
The Braves will attempt to reverse their fortunes and get off the schnide tomorrow night, as Gavin Floyd makes his Braves debut against Cardinals lefty Tyler Lyons. After Ramiro Peña's strong offensive night, it will be interesting to see if Fredi González continues to favor the switch-hitter as the team's starting second baseman after Dan Uggla was left on the bench yet again tonight, or if perhaps a move to bring up Tommy La Stella occurs, although I'd think that the Braves would wait until Thursday's off day to make such a decision.
Win expectancy graph, courtesy of Fangraphs, is below. Perhaps the Braves' fortunes will shift tomorrow.