Braves vs. Reds
When:7 p.m. Tuesday
Pitchers: Braves, Jair Jurrjens (5-4, 2.85); Reds, Aaron Harang (5-6, 3.74)
TV, radio: SportSouth; 102.9 FM
Web site: www.atlantabraves.com
ATLANTA — The standings show the Atlanta Braves falling fast in the NL East. That's not the only cause for concern.
The stories behind the won-loss totals — a lack of hitting and lackadaisical play — also are troubling for Atlanta, which has lost seven of its last 11.
The Braves (30-32) were off on Monday after losing two straight games at Baltimore to fall below Florida into fourth place in the NL East, 61/2 games behind Philadelphia. The Braves' road trip resumes at Cincinnati today before a weekend series at Boston.
Starting pitching has been the team's strength, but ace Derek Lowe didn't make it out of the third inning in Sunday's 11-2 loss to the Orioles.
Perhaps more notable's than Lowe's short stint was manager Bobby Cox making the rare move of benching shortstop Yunel Escobar during the game.
Cox believed Escobar, who committed four errors in a nine-game homestand before the weekend series at Baltimore, was slow to react on Sunday when the Orioles pulled off their first steal of home since May 23, 2007.
With the Orioles ahead 4-0 in the second inning, Brian Roberts was caught off first. Escobar was about to tag Roberts before realizing too late that Robert Andino was running from third base. Andino easily beat Escobar's throw.
"We pride ourselves on doing things right, being in the game and (we) don't do things lackadaisically," said Cox, who moved rookie shortstop Diory Hernandez into the game in the third inning.
Escobar also was slow to react on a throw to the plate in the Braves' 3-2 home loss to the Pirates on Wednesday night. Pittsburgh's Craig Monroe kept running around third after taking off from second as Kelly Johnson made a diving stop of a grounder and flipped to Escobar for an attempted force at second base.
Monroe scored as Escobar was wild on his belated throw to the plate.
"It wasn't heads-up," Cox said of Escobar's play last week.
Johnson said Escobar "probably assumed (Monroe) wasn't going to score. You've just got to peek in at the runner. Certainly it was the last thing on my mind too, that he (Monroe) would be going."
Cox sighed when asked Sunday if benching Escobar will make a point.
"I've talked to him an awful lot since he's been here," Cox said.
Escobar's bat makes him an important part of the lineup. He is hitting .293 with six homers and leads the team with 33 RBIs and 35 runs.
The Braves probably can't keep Escobar out of the lineup because there has been too little offensive support for Chipper Jones, who is in an 0-for-21 slump, and Brian McCann in the middle of the lineup.
"I'm tired of being frustrated," Jones said after the Braves scored a combined three runs in consecutive losses to Pittsburgh to end a 4-5 homestand last week.
"We've certainly pitched well enough to be leading this division right now," Jones said.
Jones said the Braves struggle if he and McCann are held without a hit or take a day off.
"This has been the story of our whole season," Jones said. "This is nothing new. If Mac is not playing and I go 0-fer, we're in trouble. If I'm not playing and Mac goes 0-fer, we're in trouble."
Left fielder Garret Anderson is hitting only .254 with three homers and 18 RBIs. Right fielder Jeff Francoeur is hitting .250 with four homers and 29 RBIs.
Braves general manager Frank Wren tried to help the lineup by acquiring center fielder Nate McLouth from the Pirates on June 3.
In his first 10 games with the Braves, McLouth is hitting .244 with one homer, two RBIs and two stolen bases. McLouth already is tied for second on the team in steals, and he has scored seven runs.
Wren said Monday the team expects first baseman Casey Kotchman to come off the 15-day disabled list on Tuesday. Kotchman has been out since June 7 with a right calf strain.
Wren said the Braves would wait until Tuesday on the Kotchman transaction "and make sure he feels OK."
The Braves are expected to send first baseman Barbaro Canizares back to Triple-A Gwinnett to clear a spot for Kotchman. Cox could choose to keep Canizares on the roster to serve as designated hitter in the weekend series against the Red Sox.