Bats can't support Hanson as Braves fall

Bats can't support Hanson as Braves fall

Bats can't support Hanson as Braves fall
ATLANTA -- With the Trade Deadline a little more than four weeks away, it appears the Braves' top priority will be to attempt to acquire a starting pitcher. But if the Cubs stood as the only team they were going to compete against for the remainder of the season, they might feel the need to add a reliable hitter.

Breaking free from one of the most frustrating months of his career, Chicago starter Jeff Samardzija frustrated the Braves for the second time this season and benefited from the three-run seventh inning that provided the Cubs a 4-1 win on Monday night.

"This team at times plays brilliantly," Braves third baseman Chipper Jones said. "At other times, we more resemble the Bad News Bears. That's not going to cut it up here."

The Braves have lost four of their past five games and four of the five games played this year against the Cubs, who entered Monday with the National League's worst winning percentage and second-worst ERA.

But the Braves have struggled against Chicago's staff, totaling five runs and batting .200 (25-for-125).

"When we get a good pitching performance, we don't swing the bats," Jones said. " When we get a good pitching performance, we don't play defense. We swing the bats, we don't pitch. It's frustrating.

"If the guys in the clubhouse want to get to where we want to go, better start playing better."

Samardzija was in complete control while recording a career-high 11 strikeouts and limiting the Braves to one run and four hits over seven innings. The lone run he surrendered came courtesy of the consecutive two-out hits that Michael Bourn and Martin Prado recorded in the sixth inning.

"I felt I wasn't giving myself the right opportunity to succeed and that's frustrating, especially with how our team has been playing," Samardzija said. "You don't want to be the one guy who lets your team down. I came out today and attacked the zone."

It certainly was not the kind of outing one might expect from a pitcher who had posted a 10.41 ERA in five June starts. But the Braves certainly had reason to believe they might be challenged. Samardzija limited them to one run in seven innings on May 7.

When Samardzija struggled in June, he struggled to command his split-finger fastball. Unfortunately for the Braves, he regained a feel for the pitch, which serves as a valuable weapon when mixed with his 94-mph four-seam fastball.

"I saw those [June] numbers this morning when I came in and I was like, 'That is not the same guy we saw earlier this year,'" Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez said. "He proved he was better than what those numbers showed."

While Samardzija won for the first time since May 29, Braves starting pitcher Tommy Hanson saw his four-game winning streak snapped. Hanson was charged with four runs and seven hits in seven innings. He had surrendered just one run and thrown 76 pitches before things fell apart during a three-run seventh inning that was highlighted by Luis Valbuena's bases-clearing double.

"It's frustrating," Hanson said. "It's not like I went out there and got beat up. I felt like I had my good stuff and it just came down to that one inning. Those are the frustrating games and the ones that are tough to swallow."

Samardzija had allowed just one hit before Bourn drilled an opposite-field double down the left-field line with two outs in the sixth inning. Having struck out in his first two at-bats, Prado then gained some retribution by following with a game-tying single.

But the excitement created by Prado's single would quickly fade as Hanson surrendered two quick singles before issuing a walk to load the bases with none out in the seventh inning. Valbuena then delivered the crushing blow with his three-run double to right field.

Hanson's seventh-inning troubles marred what had the makings of being an impressive start. The only damage he incurred through the first six innings came when Anthony Rizzo hit the fourth inning's first pitch over the right-center-field wall. Rizzo's second home run was the 11th that Hanson has allowed in his past seven starts.

It appeared the Braves might strike first after Andrelton Simmons used a walk, a stolen base and a wild pitch to reach third base with one out in the third inning. But Bourn's line drive to shortstop Starlin Castro marked the start of an inning-ending double play.

Samardzija struck out the next four batters he faced and had retired eight in a row before Bourn got to him with his sixth-inning double.

"The game was Samardzija," Gonzalez said. "He kept us off balance the whole night, throwing the 94-mph fastball -- and he had his split going. There were a few times he would throw it four or five times in a row, and we had no chance."

Mark Bowman is a reporter for This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.