If the Atlanta Braves fail to make the playoffs for the first time since 1990, a big reason will the team’s struggles at home.
Atlanta looks to begin boosting its dismal record at Turner Field on Friday when it starts a three-game series against the Washington Nationals.
The Braves (59-67) opened a nine-game homestand this week by losing two of three to the Pittsburgh Pirates, owners of the NL’s worst record. Wednesday’s 5-4 defeat dropped Atlanta’s home record to 26-33, second-worst in the majors.
“Anytime you lose two out of three to anybody, it’s frustrating,” starter Tim Hudson said. “You know you’re not going to win every series, but it’s frustrating, especially when it’s against teams you should be beating.”
It appears the Braves’ streak of 14 consecutive division titles will end this year, facing a huge deficit to the NL East-leading New York Mets, but they still consider themselves in the NL wild card race.
The team is on pace for its worst home record since 1989, and has won only one of its five series at Turner Field since the All-Star break.
“You’ve got to look at it as a negative right now, just by the numbers,” said Braves first baseman Adam LaRoche. “We’re better on the road for some reason. Why that is, no one knows.”
Atlanta’s Chuck James (6-3, 4.19 ERA) is trying to figure out that answer himself. James goes into his start Friday with a 2-2 record and 6.28 ERA in six appearances at Turner Field, compared to 4-1 with a 2.70 ERA in 11 appearances on the road.
His last two starts—both wins—have come away from home, including his most recent against the Florida Marlins in a 5-3 win Saturday. The 24-year-old right-hander pitched six innings, allowing two runs while striking out five and walking three.
“The first couple of innings, I felt like I didn’t have a lot of control,” James said. “I was having trouble staying back on my pitches. Later in the game, I got in a groove where I could locate the ball better.”
The rookie won his only start against the Nationals in a 10-4 win on Aug. 14, allowing two earned runs and eight hits while striking out five in seven innings.
The Nationals (54-73) will counter with Ramon Ortiz (9-11, 5.31), who has lost his last two starts, including an 11-2 defeat Saturday to the Philadelphia Phillies. The right-hander was ejected after 1 2-3 innings for hitting consecutive batters. He allowed eight runs and walked three.
“I don’t know (what went wrong), I couldn’t throw a strike,” Ortiz said. “I go inside. I have to go inside but I don’t try to hit a guy. I don’t want to hit people. I have to throw inside.”
Ortiz is 1-4 with an 8.24 ERA in six starts against the Braves. He’s 1-2 against them this year, allowing 15 runs in 17 2-3 innings.
Washington has lost five straight, and is 5-13 since Aug. 4. The team was swept by the Florida Marlins in its most recent series, including a 9-7 loss on Wednesday.
After the game, manager Frank Robinson and general manager Jim Bowden met behind closed doors for about 25 minutes.
“It was nothing serious, just letting off a little steam,” said Robinson, whose club is 1-5 on a nine-game road trip. “We’re all frustrated with the way we’ve been playing on this road trip. Hopefully, we can get this thing (turned) around and win some ballgames.”
These teams split a four-game series at Washington last week.