Cardinals-Braves Preview

The Associated Press

Short-handed offensively, the sinking Atlanta Braves certainly can't afford to be giving up a lot of runs because of a struggling rotation.

The Braves will try to avoid a ninth straight loss Tuesday night when they continue their series against the visiting St. Louis Cardinals.

Atlanta dropped its eighth straight Monday, falling 8-2 to St. Louis - extending its worst single-season skid since losing nine in a row April 21-29, 2010.

The Braves (26-24) have averaged 2.5 runs and hit .178 during their current funk, striking out 10 or more times in three straight games. It hasn't helped that Brian McCann recently missed time with an illness, while Chipper Jones (leg) and Freddie Freeman (vision) are both out.

"We've got to turn this thing around - soon," said McCann, who returned and went 0 for 4 on Monday. "We've just got to stay afloat."

Atlanta, which has slipped into a last-place tie with Philadelphia in the NL East, could get some help offensively if Freeman returns Tuesday. He has missed the last three games and four of five with vision problems, but is hoping to have prescription sports goggles arrive in time for the game.

The Braves could certainly use more production, but a scuffling pitching staff may be the bigger concern. With Tommy Hanson getting knocked out in the fourth inning Monday, Atlanta has now allowed seven or more runs in four consecutive games for the first time since doing it five times in a row July 26-30, 2008.

After ranking fourth in the majors with a 3.48 ERA last year, the Braves are in the bottom third at 4.23.

"We've always been known for our pitching, and we will," manager Fredi Gonzalez said. "We're just going through a stretch right now."

Randall Delgado (2-5, 4.53 ERA) has been going through an individual drought for a while. After winning his first two starts of 2012, he's winless in his last seven, yielding eight walks and eight runs over 9 1-3 innings in the last two.

He's walked at least three in each of his last four outings.

The right-hander takes the ball Tuesday, and he may want to be especially careful with Rafael Furcal. The shortstop hit one of two home runs against Hanson on Monday, finishing with three hits to bring his batting average up to .340.

St. Louis (27-22) has won back-to-back games, scoring eight runs in each, after dropping three straight. Monday's win snapped a three-game skid against the Braves, and the Cardinals have now won 12 of 18 in the series.

They've lost three straight times with Jake Westbrook (4-3, 3.38) on the mound, with opponents hitting .371 against Tuesday's scheduled starter in that stretch.

Westbrook gave up a season-high six runs in a season-low 3 2-3 innings of St. Louis' 10-9 loss to Philadelphia on Thursday.

"I was very erratic early," he said. "Even when I was in the zone, it was one of those type things where they were able to get base hits. It snowballed early on me."

The right-hander is 1-1 with a 4.03 ERA in four starts against the Braves. Eric Hinske, who is 2 for 18 with eight strikeouts in his last five games, is 5 for 14 with two doubles against Westbrook.

It's unclear if the Cardinals will have David Freese out of the lineup for a second straight day as he deals with a wrist problem.

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