The Atlanta Braves bullpen just experienced another meltdown.
It’s a shortcoming that contributed to the end of their division title run last season, and a trend they hope to avoid as they open a three-game set on Friday against the Colorado Rockies at Coors Field.
As the Braves (13-8) enter the last series of a nine-game road trip, they look to regroup from Wednesday’s 4-3 defeat at Florida, where they entered the ninth inning with a three-run lead.
“For me, it’s the most disappointing loss of the season for us,” Braves starter Tim Hudson said. “It stings that we didn’t win the ballgame.”
The defeat cost the Braves a chance to retake first place in the NL East—a position to which they became accustomed before their run of 14 straight division titles ended last season. The Braves blew 29 saves in 2006, second only to Kansas City’s 31.
Atlanta might need its bullpen to regroup with left-hander Chuck James starting on Friday. James (2-2, 4.22 ERA) has lost his last two starts and has not lasted more than six innings in any of his four appearances this season.
The Braves won the only other game in which their revamped bullpen blew a save this year.
Wednesday’s loss evened the Braves’ record on this trip at 3-3 and caused them to lose a series for the first time this season. The winning run scored on Brian McCann’s passed ball with one out after closer Bob Wickman allowed a three-run double.
“In the ninth inning, anything can happen,” Wickman told the Braves’ official Web site. “That ninth inning, some people can pitch in and some people can’t, because so much happens. (On Wednesday), the worst happens.”
James does not have a decision with a 9.00 ERA in his two appearances against Colorado (9-13). He allowed six runs and seven hits in five innings of the Braves’ 9-8 loss at Coors Field on Sept. 24.
Both of James’ losses this season have taken place on the road. The latest came when he gave up six runs and 10 hits in 5 1-3 innings of a 7-2 defeat to the New York Mets on Saturday.
James’ opponent on Friday, Rockies left-hander Jeff Francis (1-2, 6.46), has had problems at home lately. Each of his last two starts came at Coors Field and he lost both, allowing 13 runs and 22 hits—including three homers—in 11 innings.
“Two bad games isn’t a trend yet, that I can’t pitch there,” Francis told the Rockies’ official Web site. “I have confidence that I can pitch anywhere.”
Francis improved to 2-1 with an 8.40 ERA in three starts against the Braves despite allowing five runs and nine hits in five innings of a 10-9 win on Sept. 23, 2006 in Colorado.
The Rockies enter after avoiding a three-game sweep to the New York Mets by tying a season high in runs and having 20 hits in an 11-5 win Wednesday.
“We needed to come out and play a good game, bust out with the bats,” Rockies manager Clint Hurdle said.
Matt Holliday was 2-for-4 with three RBIs to extend his hitting streak to nine games, batting .514 (18-for-35) in that span.
Colorado is 7-3 against Atlanta at Coors Field since May 1, 2004. The Rockies have not lost a home series to the Braves since they were swept in three games from Aug. 22-24, 2003.