Another tough day for Braves' bullpen

Another tough day for Braves' bullpen

HOUSTON -- Just when it looked like things couldn't get any worse for the Braves, they were reminded that their Sunday night flight from Houston to Fort Lauderdale, Fla., would take them through Tropical Storm Alberto.

"The hits keep coming for the Atlanta Braves," said a further discouraged Chipper Jones after the Braves ended their four-game series at Minute Maid Park on Sunday afternoon with a 14-4 loss.

About the only thing the Braves could enjoy after allowing more runs than they have all season was the fact that Horacio Ramirez had escaped serious injury after being hit with a Lance Berkman line drive a few hours before.

But when an organization that has won 14 consecutive division titles has lost 11 of its past 14 games, it's rather difficult to look for the positives. Instead, they're forced to wonder if it's even possible for them to erase the 10-game lead the Mets have gained over them in the National League East.

This marks the first time the Braves have been 10 games out of the race since July 22, 1993, four days after Fred McGriff was obtained. That team won 54 of its final 73 games to win the NL West title. But without a McGriff-like addition to this current bunch, there likely won't be a 15th consecutive division title.

"It's obviously a very discouraged ballclub right now," Jones said. "To a man, there's only a handful of guys who are proud of the way they've played. Other than that, everybody is pretty much down in the dumps."

All the struggles the Braves encountered while winning just two of 10 games during their last homestand followed them to Houston, where they lost three of four to an Astros team that, entering the series, had won just four of their previous 15 games.

"Really, things aren't going our way right now," Ramirez said. "It seems that we're not getting any breaks. I think most of that stuff evens out over the course of the season."

Fortunately, Ramirez will be around to help the Braves as they attempt to break out of this serious funk. Although he was struck in the head with Berkman's second-inning liner, he suffered just a contusion and should be ready to make his next start.

Obviously, he's hoping it will be more memorable than this one, in which he allowed six earned runs and seven hits in 1 2/3 innings. His biggest mistake came with an elevated fastball that Jason Lane drilled for a two-out, three-run homer in the first inning.

Berkman's liner, which ended up in right field, scored two runs and gave the Astros a 7-1 lead. So there's more than one reason why this was an afternoon Ramirez would like to forget. In his previous three starts, he'd allowed a total of four earned runs in 22 innings.

With Ramirez forced to exit, manager Bobby Cox was forced to use six relievers, and most of them provided solid outings.

Such couldn't be said in reference to former closer Chris Reitsma. The veteran right-hander retired just two of the 10 batters he faced in the sixth inning. Along the way, he allowed five earned runs, surrendered seven hits and ended his day by plunking Willy Tavares with a pitch.

"They didn't miss his mistakes," Brian McCann said of Reitsma, who now has a 9.11 ERA.

Eric Munson's three-run home run highlighted Houston's five-run sixth inning and capped his two-homer performance, which also included a shot to begin the third inning against Oscar Villarreal.

"We hit the ball real good," Cox said. "We hit some balls extremely hard all day long. We just didn't have a good day pitching."

Edgar Renteria paced the Braves' 11-hit attack with three singles and his eighth homer of the season. But his second four-hit performance of the season, combined with the solo homers Jeff Francoeur and Jones provided in the third inning against Wandy Rodriguez, was far from enough to prevent yet another loss.

"It was a tough series," Jones said. "We couldn't get anybody out and couldn't score enough runs."

Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.