Originally created 08/14/97

Pirates sweep; Atlanta's bats stay cold



ATLANTA - It's gotten to the point where Bobby Cox is ready to grab a bat and try to drive in a run himself.

Goodness knows he couldn't fail any more miserably than his hitters.

A condition that Braves general manager John Schuerholz described as "malaise" has overtaken a once-potent lineup and rendered it helpless.

Facing a pitcher who is tied for the league lead with 12 losses, the Braves produced six singles, failed to produce a home run in a fifth straight game Wednesday night and dropped a 2-1 decision to the Pittsburgh Pirates before 40,793 fans at Turner Field.

"Somebody is just going to have to step up a notch, step up and do something," Cox said. "It's a shame to get this kind of pitching and get one run every night."

The Braves managed only two multi-hit innings, left nine men on base and failed to score more than two runs in a fourth consecutive game.

The hard-luck loser was John Smoltz (11-10), who pitched his staff-leading sixth complete game, giving up seven hits and striking out nine, but took his first loss since July 20.

A homestand that started with a pair of wins over the Cardinals ended with two losses to the Pirates, who had not swept a two-game series in Atlanta since April 1993.

"The way we've played we haven't deserved to win," Smoltz said. "It's frustrating, very frustrating. The last five nights we've had opportunities to win every game. We've lost some chances to increase our lead and get on a roll."

The state of Atlanta's offense? It struggled against Pirates starter Jon Lieber, who came in with a 6-12 mark and a career record of 0-2 with a 6.85 ERA against the Braves.

Pittsburgh tried its best to give the game away, committing three errors, but the Braves refused to take it. Their list of misdeeds was lengthy.

  • Chipper Jones chased a high 3-2 pitch in the first inning and it resulted in a double play.
  • Michael Tucker ended the fifth inning with a swinging strikeout, stranding two runners.
  • Pinch hitter Andruw Jones failed to drive in the tying run from third base with one out in the seventh. Jones couldn't provide a clutch hit with the bases loaded and two out.
  • Pinch hitter Ed Giovanola failed to get a bunt down in the ninth and struck out into a double play.
  • "There's just nothing hit hard," Cox said. "Some guys are just making routine outs, at-bat after at-bat after at-bat."

    The lack of production from the middle of the lineup forced Cox to shuffle his hitters, but he didn't get any results. Fred McGriff was moved out of the cleanup spot to No. 6 and struck out three times and Chipper Jones, the new cleanup hitter, was 0-for-3 and had one hit in the series, while failing to drive in any of the 10 runners that were on base when he came to the plate.

    Atlanta's power outage is significant. During the eight-game homestand, the Braves hit only two home runs and they have only 54 homers in 61 home games this season, compared with 80 home runs in the same number of home games last year.

    "We've had a habit of doing that," shortstop Jeff Blauser said, addressing the club's lack of production. "Maybe not at this time of year, but it's going to happen. Obviously, team-wise we need to do the little things better."

    A clutch hit would do wonders to cure the Braves' woes. They are hitting only .210 this month, after hitting .278 through the end of July, have scored more than four runs just once in 13 games and are averaging 3.2 runs per game.

    "We need to play better baseball," Smoltz said. "You can't keep having the same thing happen game after game."

    But it does, at-bat after at-bat after at-bat.



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