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More than a month into the season, the Braves are still fumbling around, trying to put the pieces together.

They piled up 11 hits against the Astros on Sunday --- a feat for a struggling offense --- but still lost 7-5 because they stranded 11 runners.

The Braves dropped to 2-4 on this homestand with back-to-back series losses to the Cardinals and Astros. Now the Mets are on their way to town.

"It's something that's plagued us for the last few years," Chipper Jones said, "just not being able to put all three facets of the game together consistently enough to win ballgames."

If the Braves aren't struggling to hit, they've got problems on defense. If it's not defense, then it's pitching.

This time, it was Jo-Jo Reyes who sprung the leak. He couldn't hold a 3-1 lead in the sixth inning and a good opportunity to win for the first time since last June.

Houston took a 4-3 lead on a Michael Bourn bunt single followed by three consecutive singles from the heart of the order.

Reyes allowed four runs in 5 1/3 innings in what manager Bobby Cox still qualified as an encouraging outing. But he's stuck at 0-8 since last June 13. His ERA over that time is 6.58 through 15 starts and one relief appearance.

Even after the Braves managed to tie it again 4-4, reliever Peter Moylan's leadoff walk to Geoff Blum in the seventh started a two-run inning for the decisive runs for Houston. Carlos Lee drove in the game-winning run on a sacrifice fly, one of four sacrifice flies by the Astros.

The Braves fell to 1-13 when trailing after seven innings.

They had plenty of opportunities to change that but hit only 3-for-14 with runners in scoring position for the game. A prime example of their problems came in the sixth inning. Matt Diaz tripled to lead it off, only to watch David Ross and Jordan Schafer strike out behind him. If Greg Norton hadn't come through with a two-out single, the Braves would have come away empty.

Those two strikeouts were among six by the Braves with runners in scoring position, including three from the rookie Schafer.

This is a Braves offense searching for something. They hope it's the return of Brian McCann and Garret Anderson, both of whom are expected back from the disabled list this week --- Anderson on Tuesday and McCann on Friday.

"I'm not making excuses, because every team has injuries," Diaz said. "But when you get a McCann back, solidify the middle of that order, it puts everyone else down where they're more comfortable. It'll be a different attack."

The timing is key. Today the Braves open a 10-game stretch against nothing but division opponents. The Mets come in for two games at Turner Field. Then the Braves hit the road to play the Marlins, the Phillies and the Mets in New York.

While the Braves fell to two games under .500 Sunday, they are only 2 1/2 games out of first place in the NL East. They are fully aware of that.

"We're still right there," Jones said. "We throw a four-, five-game winning streak together, we're in first place. As bad as we've played, we hope that we have a lot better Baseball ahead of us. If that's the case, first place is not too far off."

That might be a stretch right now for a Braves team that won five of its first six games of the season but has now lost five of its last six series.

Next for Braves

Who: N.Y. Mets

When: 7 p.m. today

TV; radio: WPCH; 640 AM, 96.1 FM

Author:Fox Sports
Author's Website:
Added: May 4, 2009

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