Originally created 09/23/05

Atlanta Braves are still sliding

ATLANTA - Adam LaRoche said firmly late Wednesday that the Atlanta Braves' extra-inning loss to Philadelphia that night wouldn't be a lingering thought when the team got to the park the following morning.

How's today's attitude looking, then, after a compounding defeat Thursday afternoon that was unquestionably even more difficult-to-take than Ryan Howard's 10th-inning grand slam roughly 16 hours earlier?

Atlanta squandered a chance in the eighth to grab the lead in a scoreless game and starter Tim Hudson gave up four runs in the ninth and another magic-number razor game went unused in a 4-0 loss at Turner Field.

For the Braves, their National League East lead now four with nine to play, it's an evolving world of urgency that's beginning to border on emergency.

With a magic number stuck on six, they're still in control but wobbling at the wheel.

Atlanta is 5-8 since Sept. 9 and has lost five of seven to the Phillies the past two weeks.

"We've gotten outplayed a lot," LaRoche said Wednesday of the Phillies' recent mastery of the East's perennial masters. "We've had a lot of those games in the bag that we've ended up losing."

Philadelphia now travels to 70-81 Cincinnati for the weekend; third-place Florida (79-73) comes to Atlanta.

"There should be pressure on everyone until that magic number is zero," said John Smoltz, who'll take the ball tonight against Florida's Josh Beckett with the task of again playing stopper. "We've got to find a way to win baseball games. Right now, we've just hit a little rut. We have to find a way out of it."

The reason for the rut is spread over virtually the entire team.

LaRoche has popped out of a slump that was consuming him, but several others have taken his place.

Since hitting his 50th home run of the year Sept. 14 in Philly, Andruw Jones is 2 for his past 26. Both hits in a skid that might prove damaging to his MVP candidacy were singles.

Another Brave's candidacy, Jeff Francoeur's for rookie of the year, has also taken a serious hit in the past few weeks.

Francoeur came up from Double A on July 7 and stayed above .400 through Aug. 11. Now, though, he's at .311 and dropping.

He had five three-hit games in August; he's got one in September. Francoeur also made an error in right field Wednesday that led to an unearned run.

Reach Travis Haney at travis.haney@morris.com.

Magic number - 6

Combination of Braves' wins and Phillies' losses to win the NL East


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