A hot streak this month helped the Atlanta Braves emerge as contenders for the NL wild card. Consecutive losses to a team with one of the league’s worst records have put a damper on that success.
The Braves look to rebound from their first back-to-back losses in more than three weeks and avoid a three-game sweep against the San Diego Padres on Thursday night at Turner Field.
Atlanta didn’t look like a potential playoff team when it went into the All-Star break with a losing record. But the Braves (66-60) started the second half strong and then won 13 of 18 from Aug. 4-23 to pull within four games of the wild-card lead.
That promising surge, however, has been partially negated with consecutive losses to the Padres (54-74), who are in last place in the NL West. The Braves fell 2-1 in 12 innings in the series opener before giving up a double-digit run total for the first time in two months in a 12-5 defeat Wednesday night.
Jones’ prolonged slump isn’t helping the team’s cause. The six-time All-Star and 1999 NL MVP is 1 for 32 with nine strikeouts over his last 10 games. Atlanta has fallen 5 1/2 behind Colorado in the wild-card race.
Vazquez went 5-0 with a 2.59 ERA in seven starts from July 2-Aug. 9, all Atlanta wins. His undefeated streak ended with a 4-1 loss to Philadelphia on Aug. 16, and Vazquez gave up five runs and a season-high 10 hits in 6 2-3 innings to suffer a 5-3 loss to Florida on Friday.
Vazquez, who last lost three straight starts at the end of last season with the Chicago White Sox, will try to rebound against a Padres team he held to two runs and four hits in seven innings Aug. 4, winning 9-2 to improve to 4-4 with a 3.19 ERA in 16 starts against San Diego.
The Padres are in position to complete their first three-game sweep outside San Diego this season. Though they’re 21-40 in road games, they’ve averaged 6.4 runs and hit .325 while winning seven of their last 11.
San Diego trailed 3-0 after the first inning Wednesday and didn’t score until the sixth but still pulled off the rout.
“What I liked about this game is that as crushing as that can be in the first inning, our guys kept their chins up,” manager Bud Black said. “There was good energy in the dugout.”
Black will hand the ball to Clayton Richard(notes) (3-0, 3.67) for the finale. The rookie left-hander, part of the trade that sent Jake Peavy(notes) to the White Sox, has won four straight decisions with a 3.09 ERA dating to his time with Chicago. He pitched six innings in beating St. Louis 4-0 on Friday.
Richard has never faced Atlanta.