Braves trying their best to gain ground

Braves muster little against Astros

ATLANTA -- The stated goal is to reach .500 by the All-Star break, but if the Braves continue to waste opportunities like they did on Saturday night, that objective could turn out to be just wishful thinking.

Jo-Jo Reyes gave up four early runs, and the Braves could muster only two hits off Chris Sampson, Roy Oswalt's replacement, in a 6-1 loss to the Astros that left some in the Atlanta clubhouse understandably frustrated.

"Overall, I see a lot of the young guys -- they have developed the mentality that they [can] sit back and they [can] wait for me or [Mark Teixeira] or [Brian McCann] to deliver the big blow when we're not going to do it every time," third baseman Chipper Jones said. "And it takes somebody else doing their jobs in front of us to help pick up the slack, and I'm not saying that they don't, but I just see that mentality in some of the young guys on the team.

"It's almost real relaxed until it's too late. We dug ourselves a hole and then we start playing, and that's not a good approach."

After the Braves were swept by the National League East-leading Phillies on Thursday, McCann said the goal was to get to .500 by the All-Star break.

With the loss on Saturday, the Braves slipped back to six games under .500, with seven games remaining until the four-day break. To break even on the first half of the season is a modest goal, and it is certainly below the preseason expectations for this team. But with the way Atlanta's currently playing, it's anything but a foregone conclusion that it'll rebound in the second half.

"I think it's a mistake to look that far ahead, to be honest with you," Jones said of trying to reach .500 by the All-Star break. "I think everyone needs to worry about tomorrow, today. Now that today is over, tomorrow, and don't go any farther than that. Each hitter should take their approach at the plate like you have four or five battles within a war, and you've got to win the majority of the battles."

An uphill battle was the best way to characterize Saturday's game after Reyes allowed back-to-back RBI singles to Carlos Lee and Miguel Tejada in the first inning. Not hitting his spots, Reyes gave up a two-run double to Mark Loretta that gave the Astros a 4-0 lead before McCann, the Braves' No. 5 hitter, had even batted.

"He missed his spots again too much," Braves manager Bobby Cox said of Reyes. "Too many walks, too many pitches."

After one of the best outings of his young career on Sunday, when he pitched seven strong innings and allowed one run on six hits against the Blue Jays, Reyes struggled with his command from the outset. He was charged with four runs, six hits and three walks in 4 1/3 innings -- exactly the kind of outing the Braves couldn't afford to give a slumping Astros team.

"We don't even get five hitters into our lineup and we're down, 4-0," Jones said. "And then, all of a sudden, everybody is going, 'Oh no, here we go again.' ... It's just a snowball effect, and it starts with Pitch 1 in the top of the first, and it's just snowballing on us right now."

The Braves could hardly touch Sampson, who was moved from the bullpen to make the spot start for Oswalt, who strained his left hip abductor in his last start on Monday.

Sampson had made 13 appearances in the bullpen since his last start on May 25, and he held the Braves to two hits and one run in five efficient innings, needing just 55 pitches.

"To get three baserunners tonight, it's pathetic, against anybody," Jones said.

The only run the Braves scored came on a solo shot by McCann in the fifth inning, his 15th homer of the season.

Other than that, there were a couple of flyouts to the warning track and a couple more that were hit well but directly at someone. Sooner or later, those hits are going to have to fall for the Braves to stay in this division race -- and they know it.

"We're not in a position right now to lose, but we're looking at it as a three-game series and we've still got tomorrow," McCann said. "We're seven games back and that's too many. We have to start making games up, and the only way to do that is to win. We're not going to make any games up by losing."

Ryan Lavner is an associate reporter for This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.