ATLANTA -- Mike Minor felt better than he had in any start this year and B.J. Upton homered for the second time in five games. But instead of taking advantage of these encouraging developments at Turner Field on Tuesday night, the Braves extended their tailspin with yet another futile offensive performance in a 4-2 loss to the Dodgers.
With their 11th loss in their past 13 games, the Braves now find themselves five games behind the Nationals, one game in front of the Marlins and 3 1/2 games in front of the fourth-place Mets. This is certainly not what they expected when they exited the All-Star break tied for first in the National League East.
But while scoring less than two runs in 13 of the 24 games that have followed, they have allowed all of their warts to be exposed and more importantly jeopardized their hopes to remain a legitimate postseason contender.
"I know a lot of people are looking at the Nationals in front of us, but we still play those guys a lot and there's still a lot of baseball left to be played," Upton said. "There's no need to panic. Yeah, it's five games. But at the same time, we went on that stretch run and they didn't, things kind of flipped. It's the game of baseball. Things can turn pretty fast."
Given that they have now lost consecutive games started by Kevin Correia, who entered Monday with a 4.94 ERA, and Dan Haren, who entered Tuesday having produced a 7.92 ERA in his six most-recent starts, the Braves have not taken advantage of the fact they will not see Clayton Kershaw or Zack Greinke during this four-game series. Instead they have extended the offensive woes that have led them to score more runs than just the Cardinals and Padres this year.
Haren's six innings were blemished only by a pair of hits recorded by the Upton brothers. Tommy La Stella scored from first base in the third inning when Justin Upton's flare to left-center field became an RBI double once it bounced off the glove of a diving Yasiel Puig. B.J. Upton then gave the Braves a brief 2-1 lead with his two-out solo home run in the fourth inning. Each of the four hits B.J. Upton has recorded in 22 at-bats against Haren going back to the 2008 season have been home runs.
"We're always a couple hits away from winning a ballgame," B.J. Upton said. "It just seems time after time that the other team makes some good pitches and gets out of it. That's just baseball. It can't happen that way all year. There's a lot of baseball left to be played."
If there was one positive the Braves could take from this latest loss, it was the performance provided by Minor, who allowed three earned runs and eight hits in 6 2/3 innings. Instead of looking like the guy who had produced a 7.33 ERA in his previous 10 starts, he displayed the aggressive approach the Braves had become accustomed to as he produced a 2.90 ERA in the 47 starts made from July 5, 2012 until the start of this season.
"Things were just easy," Minor said. "There was no time where I was pressured or I felt like I couldn't make a pitch or scared almost like, 'Don't miss the barrel or don't miss here.' It was one of those starts where I felt I'm kind of back where I want to be."
Because of his recent struggles, the Braves opted to skip Minor's turn through the rotation last week. The time off gave the 26-year-old southpaw a chance to take a mental break and regain confidence that was evident while he was on the mound and as he talked to the media after the game.
Minor made two avoidable mistakes that proved costly. With one out in the second inning, he lost control of an 0-1 fastball that dented Justin Turner's helmet. Darwin Barney later scored Turner with a two-out bloop single to shallow left field.
Minor then found a groove that he maintained until Haren hit a hanging curveball to right field with one out in the fifth. Carl Crawford followed with a double that set the stage for one run to score on a Yasiel Puig groundout and another on a Matt Kemp single that proved to be just out of second baseman La Stella's reach in shallow right field.
"We were all worried about Mike," Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez said. "We skipped him. I think we need to give a lot of credit to [pitching coach Roger McDowell] and Mike. A couple balls were hit out of reach of infielders and it cost us some runs. He was really, really good. I hope that continues. I can't wait for his next start."
Minor and Gonzalez can only hope the offense provides sufficient support when that time comes.
Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.