NEW YORK -- With memories of a nine-game winning streak still fresh in their minds, the Braves are in the midst of another losing spell that has placed a focus back on their maddening, inconsistent offense.
Ervin Santana spent six innings providing reason to wonder if he truly had regained the promise he showed in April. But as the seventh inning unfolded during Wednesday night's 4-1 loss to the Mets, Santana and his Braves teammates left reason to wonder what this season's second half might have in store.
Making his final start before the All-Star break, Santana was in the midst of an enjoyable outing until he surrendered Travis d'Arnaud's two-run home run to cap a decisive three-run seventh. d'Arnaud's shot into the left-center-field seats proved to be insurmountable for the Braves who have lost four straight games since notching a season-best nine-game winning streak Saturday.
"We just came out of a nine-game winning streak four days ago," Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez said. "So, it's the same team that won nine, the same lineup. We're going through a little streak right now. We went through a good streak by winning nine. Now we're going through a four-game losing streak where we're not scoring runs."
The Braves have just two runs off the past four startes that they have faced during their skid. Breaking that down, those two runs have been scored within the 27 2/3 innings Wade Miley, Daisuke Matsuzaka, Jacob deGrom and Dillon Gee have combined to complete against Atlanta over the past four days. One of those runs was surrendered by Gee, who pitched into the eighth Wednesday in his first start since feeling the effects of a strained right lat muscle after his May 10 outing against the Phillies.
"It was one of those nights where they were super aggressive and we were fortunate they were hitting it at people for the most part," Gee said. "As long as they're hitting them at people, it's a great thing. ... It was one of those things were it could go either way, but we were fortunate that it went our way."
Unfortunately for Gonzalez, he was correct when he pointed out that his team is the same one that had just won 11 of its previous 12 as recently as Saturday. The Braves hit just .229 (27-for-118) with runners in scoring position during that stretch. In other words, they were luckier and much more efficient than they've been while hitting just .132 (5-for-38) with runners in scoring position during the past four games.
Atlanta's lone run Wednesday was scored in the sixth inning, when Santana produced a two-out, infield single and scored on B.J. Upton's double off the left-center-field wall. They then proceeded to strand two runners in each of the final three innings. Consequently, they trail the first-place Nationals by one game in the National League East.
"I don't think anybody's worried about it," Braves shortstop Andrelton Simmons said. "Nobody's concerned. We have hot streaks and cold streaks. So, we're gonna be fine, just gotta keep battling."
There might not be as much reason to worry about Santana as there was when he produced a 6.17 ERA during the seven starts he made from May 16-June 17. But when the Braves went over budget to give him a one-year, $14.1 million deal in March, they didn't envision him producing a 4.01 ERA in the 17 starts made before the All-Star break.
With that being said, Santana has been better of late. The 31-year-old hurler had allowed three earned runs or fewer in his three most recent starts entering Wednesday. He began this latest outing in inauspicious fashion, allowing a Daniel Murphy double and Lucas Duda RBI single in the first inning.
Santana faced the minimum during the five innings that followed, then watched things start to unravel after David Wright hustled his way to a double after Justin Upton was slow to get the ball back to the infield. Wright advanced to third base on Duda's fly ball to right field and scored when Nieuwenhuis lined his game-winning sacrifice fly to right field. Moments later d'Arnaud jumped on a hanging slider and sent it over the left-field wall for a two-run homer.
"It was a great game for both sides," Santana said. "In a game like that, there's only one way it's going to be. So whoever makes the first mistake ... that is going to be the game right there. So, I just left that slider up and that was the game right there."
Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.