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Mark BradleyMark Bradley

The Braves: From near no-hitters to no hitting

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Chris Johnson displays the proper method of bat disposal. (Curtis Compton/AJC)

Chris Johnson displays the proper method of bat disposal. (Curtis Compton/AJC)

Not so long ago, all the buzz was about the Atlanta Braves’ pitching. Their starting rotation was flirting with no-hitters once a week while compiling an outrageous ERA of 1.50 through 21 games. But then Alex Wood and Aaron Harang got hit hard on consecutive nights in Miami, which led to getting swept by the Marlins, and then the Braves got outpitched by San Francisco, which spawned another sweep, and now we’re back to where we’ve been for a while now.

The Braves can pitch, but — apart from the more-than-occasional home run — they can’t hit.

They still have the lowest ERA (2.72) in the majors. That’s great. They have, sad to say, scored the second-fewest runs in the majors. (Only San Diego has done less.) They’ve managed 99 runs in 30 games, and as long as the pitching staff was allowing only 1’s and 0’s, that was enough. But the Giants managed only nine runs — they hit seven homers — and still won three games at Turner Field.

The Braves have scored 10 runs over these six lost games, three in the past three. They’re 27th among 30 big-league teams in batting average (.233), 27th in hitting with runners in scoring position (.210) and 27th in on-base percentage (.294). They’re fourth in baseball in strikeouts and ninth in home runs. In sum, they’re the same clout-or-out team they were a year ago.

Jason Heyward, the leadoff hitter, is hitting .220 with an OBP of .301. B.J. Upton, who bats second, is hitting .213 with an OBP of .303. That means Freddie Freeman and Justin Upton are coming to bat with nobody aboard. Dan Uggla is again below the Mendoza Line — when are we going to rename it the Uggla Line? — and Chris Johnson, who was just granted a three-year extension, is hitting .245, lending further credence to those who believed the .321 of last season was a blip.

Fredi Gonzalez hinted after Sunday’s loss that lineup changes could be coming, but what is there to do? It’s not as if the Braves have an Oscar Taveras (Cardinals) or a Gregory Polanco (Pirates) tearing it up in the minors. The Braves start seven guys on long-term contracts, plus the folk hero Evan Gattis. And reserves Jordan Schafer, Ryan Doumit and Ramiro Pena wouldn’t appear to be options; they’re hitting .176, .188 and .214, respectively.

For both better and worse, the Braves are what they are — a team that pitches well no matter who the pitcher happens to be, but also a team with severe offensive limitations. That was enough to win the National League East last season, and the Braves again hold first place (albeit by a skinny half-game). But it does make you wonder why the Braves’ two hitting coaches get less than half the results of one Roger McDowell.

Further reading: The Braves’ rotation has been nothing but quality.

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