Mental flossing

Sorry it’s been awhile since the last post, but real life intruded and prevented me from finding the time. I will hopefully get around to a few posts in the next week or two, beginning with this one. This reminds me, I still need to get a hat.

Ever since my Atlanta Braves made a most improbable comeback against the Philadelphia Phillies in the opener of their three-game series at the Ted Tuesday night — improbable, that is, except to Phillies fans sick of seeing Ryan Madson try to close games — the Bravos haven’t been playing well.

Granted, they were shut out by Roy Halladay the next night, hardly an embarrassment these days. The next night they were flummoxed by 86-year-old Jamie Moyer, however, and entered Friday’s series at Citi Field presumably happy to see the host New York Mets in the opposing dugout.

Unfortunately it didn’t help them snap out of their slide Friday night, and the last-place Mets handed Atlanta its third straight loss, 5-2. New York padded its lead in the seventh inning thanks to a dropped pop fly, a lack of understanding of the infield fly rule and mental lapses.

Things only got worse on Saturday as another solid pitching performance by Jair Jurrjens went for naught in a 3-1 loss to the Mets, the Braves’ fourth straight. Again the loss was marred by a critical miscue, as Yunel Escobar failed to tag up and score on a fly ball to right-center by Troy Glaus that wound up getting Martin Prado tagged out in a rundown between second and third. Injury was then added to insult when Chipper Jones left in the third inning on his 38th birthday with a hip problem.

The good news Sunday was that Atlanta was on ESPN Sunday Night Baseball and that Jones would return after testing his hip swinging in his hotel room earlier in the day. But rain shortened to six innings what would be the fifth straight defeat for the Braves and a series sweep by the Mets, 1-0. The lone run for the Mets? Jose Reyes scored on a two-out throwing error by Jones in the first on a play where he could have held the ball and kept Reyes on third.

Thus the Braves were swept into the NL East cellar and boosted the Mets back into the thick of the division race by being outscored by a combined score of 9-3 — an average of two runs per game. The mistakes the Braves made in the field (seven errors), on the bases and at the plate (3-for-22 with runners in scoring position) during the Mets series were even more costly with a 3.06 ERA coming from their starters.

That come-from-behind win Tuesday put the Braves a season-high three games over .500 at 8-5, and was actually the second consecutive game they won with two outs in the ninth after rookie phenom Jason Heyward’s two-run single sank Colorado Sunday. Otherwise it’s been a rollercoaster ride this season.

When Atlanta did play well, it was pitching (team 3.86 ERA, 8th in the NL) and individual efforts like those of Heyward (8-for-15 with runners in scoring position, 16 RBIs) and Martin Prado (.406 average). The team is now hitting .228, worst in the NL.

Bobby Cox lit into the team following Saturday’s loss, and hopefully the team can turn things around quickly, though heading to St. Louis for a four-game set won’t make it easy. Despite veterans like Jones, Glaus and Tim Hudson and stars like McCann and Jurrjens, this is a pretty young squad that hasn’t found consistency and seems to be suffering from some of the problems that fans had hoped were solved by off-season moves. Yunel Escobar’s brain cramps and lack of effort at times have been particularly disturbing.

Maybe the “early” night Sunday will allow the players to clear their heads at least a little before facing a possibly-struggling Cards squad. They better start proving the naysayers wrong, or else Heyward will be one of the only highlights of what would be a disappointing swan song for Cox.

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