ATLANTA (AP) — Both at the plate and in the standings, the Atlanta Braves are squandering prime opportunities these days.
Facing slumping New York Mets starter Mike Pelfrey may give them a great opportunity to regain their footing.
Their NL East lead dwindling, the Braves seek to take advantage of Pelfrey on Wednesday night as they continue their four-game home series with the Mets.
Two weeks ago, Atlanta (60-46) appeared to be running away with the NL East. The Braves held a seven-game lead July 22, but have since dropped seven of 11 – allowing surging Philadelphia to pull within two games of first place.
A failure to hit in clutch situations is plaguing Atlanta. The Braves are batting .196 with runners in scoring position since the All-Star break, and went 0 for 8 in RBI situations during Tuesday’s 3-2 loss to the Mets (54-53).
Former Braves outfielder Jeff Francoeur homered off Atlanta closer Billy Wagner in the top of the ninth Tuesday to break a tie and allow New York to avoid falling below .500 for the first time since May 23.
“It’s been a tough 3 1/2 weeks,” said Francoeur, batting .136 since the All-Star break. “To do something right to help the team out felt really good. I know this team needs me to step up.”
The Braves might find runs easier to come by against Pelfrey (10-5, 4.10 ERA). The right-hander is 0-3 with 9.59 ERA and .446 opponent batting average over his last six starts, failing to pitch through the sixth inning in any of them. Among those outings was a 4-0 home loss to Atlanta on July 10, when he yielded four runs, 12 hits and three walks over four innings.
Pelfrey didn’t receive a decision in Friday’s 9-6 loss to Arizona. He was largely ineffective, allowing five runs and eight hits in 5 2-3 innings.
“Everybody else in the rotation has been throwing the ball great and I’ve kind of taken a step back from early in the year,” said Pelfrey, who was 9-1 with a 2.39 ERA through mid-June. “I definitely plan on getting this thing turned around and back on track so we can start winning some games.”
Atlanta will counter with Kris Medlen (6-2, 3.66), who is expected to be fine for this start despite leaving Friday’s outing at Cincinnati after getting hit on the inside of his right forearm. The right-hander allowed three runs in five innings of the eventual 6-4, 10-inning victory.
The Braves have won the last 10 games started by Medlen, who has split time between the rotation and bullpen this season. He limited the Mets to two runs over 6 1-3 innings of a 3-2 victory May 18 at Turner Field, but did not get a decision.
Pelfrey’s last outing versus Atlanta notwithstanding, pitching has dominated the season series between these clubs. They have combined for 45 runs in 10 meetings, six of them wins for the Mets. Only once – the Mets’ 5-2 win April 23 – has either club exceeded four runs in any of the matchups.
Braves catcher Brian McCann, a bright spot recently with a .325 average, five homers and 20 RBIs in his last 24 games, is 15 for 34 with six doubles and a homer off Pelfrey.
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