The Braves were leading the National League East before enduring their current seven-game losing streak -- their longest since April 2010. Five days after waking up with the NL's second-best winning percentage, they are now four games behind the first-place Nationals in the division standings.
"We just haven't as a whole been playing like we're capable of playing," Braves second baseman Dan Uggla said. "I know we've got injuries, but everybody has got injuries. You've got to battle through it and fight through it. We've got to do a better job of battling through it."
Uggla's ninth-inning double allowed the Braves to match their season-low total of hits for the second time during this skid. A once-potent offense has been weakened by the absences of an injured Chipper Jones, an ill Brian McCann and a blurry-eyed Freddie Freeman.
Still, the Braves erased a four-run deficit against Stephen Strasburg on Saturday and sent Gio Gonzalez's ERA above 2.00 with a couple of early runs on Sunday. But after gaining their first two-run advantage since beating the Rays exactly one week earlier, they watched Brandon Beachy endure his shakiest outing of the year and their offense tally just one hit during Gonzalez's seven-inning effort.
"I took a few steps backward from where I want to be tonight," Beachy said. "I didn't control my fastball, caused a lot of problems."
Beachy allowed three runs -- one earned -- and three hits in a 105-pitch, five-inning effort that brought back memories of last year, when he lasted six innings or fewer in 22 of 25 starts. This marked just the third time in this year's 10 starts that he did not work into the seventh inning. Still his Major League-best 1.77 ERA did not change.
The evening's devastating blows came when Livan Hernandez entered after Beachy hit Danny Espinosa with a pitch to begin the sixth inning. Instead of rewarding the confidence his manager showed in him, the veteran reliever allowed four hits, including Jesus Flores' go-ahead single and Steve Lombardozzi's two-run double, in the four-run sixth.
"You feel like he's experienced enough to get you through that sixth inning and keep the game right there where it's at," Fredi Gonzalez said while explaining his decision to go with Hernandez with the game tied in the sixth inning.
Beachy recorded five of his seven strikeouts through the first three innings and had allowed just two hits before walking two of the first three batters he faced in the fourth inning. In between the walks, an unsuspecting Uggla dropped shortstop Tyler Pastornicky's behind-the-back flip to the second-base bag.
Seemingly attempting to deflect attention away from a rookie shortstop, Uggla took the blame by saying he was thinking about trying to turn a double play and lost sight of the ball. The Braves' manager did not share that opinion.
"We've got to get an out," Gonzalez said. "Outs at the Major League level, we can't give away. We've got 27 of them. If you give them 30 [outs], they're going to make you pay for them. But that's a young shortstop trying to make something out of ... not a real good play. Get the out at first and see what happens."
Two batters later, Flores delivered an RBI single to left field. Gio Gonzalez followed with a game-tying sacrifice fly for his first Major League RBI.
Once the game was tied, the Nationals' left-hander found an impressive groove. Facing the Braves for the first time in his career, Gonzalez allowed just two runs and one hit in seven innings. He recorded eight of his 10 strikeouts during the final four innings.
"What a game Gio pitched," Nationals manager Davey Johnson said. "He had a little rough first inning. I thought, 'Here we go again. We are going to have a high pitch count,' and then he settled in."
Michael Bourn's third-inning one-out triple was the lone hit recorded against Gonzalez. Pastornicky followed with a suicide-squeeze bunt that gave the Braves what proved to be a short-lived two-run lead.
"We're scuffling, there's no secret to that," Beachy said. "Getting healthy would obviously help. I had the opportunity tonight to come through and get us over that hump. Hopefully Tommy [Hanson] does that for us tomorrow [against the Marlins]."