The Braves' road woes continue as the Royals registered a walk-off hit in a 4-3 win at Kauffman Stadum. Here are three observations from the game:
1. The Braves' came back, but Alex Gordon spoiled the fun
Per their 2013 custom, the Braves allowed the Royals to build an early lead before their offense got things going. If that doesn't sound familiar, you haven't been paying attention. Kansas City starter Luis Mendoza shut down the Braves in the first six innings, allowing just three hits over that stretch.
And yet, Atlanta came alive in the seventh inning, knocking in three runs off the bats of Reed Johnson (RBI single) and Justin Upton (bases-loaded, two-RBI single), evening the game at 3-3 heading into the seventh-inning stretch.
However, despite forcing the game into extra innings, the Braves could not capitalize on their late-game opportunities to score the go-ahead run; they put a runner on base with no outs in both the eighth and 10th innings to no avail. It would have been the team's seventh extra-innings win this season.
Instead, the Royals improved to 7-1 in such games thanks in large part to Alex Gordon, who belted a solo home run and knocked in the game-winning run on a walk-off single. Kansas City's left fielder coupled great defense with a 3-for-5 night to prove the pivotal thorn in the Braves' side. He's notched six hits in four games against Atlanta this season.
Braves rookie reliever Alex Wood was dealt his first-career loss as a reliever after giving up the opposite field hit (Atlanta was aligned defensively for Gordon to pull the ball).
The Braves' are now just 20-23 on the road this season. When you consider the team won its first seven road games during its scintillating start, the gap between the team's recent road struggles and its home success (25-11) becomes even more substantial.
2. Mike Minor might have cost himself an All-Star nod
At the end of May, the Braves' young left-hander was 7-2 with a 2.48 ERA -- he had allowed just nine earned runs in 40.3 innings pitched that month. His numbers were comparable to some of the best starters in the National League (not quite Adam Wainwright-esque, but impressive nonetheless) and the thought was that if he could reach nine or 10 wins by the All-Star break, he'd warrant a nod.
But that was assuming his rate of production held constant, and his June numbers have simply been off.
Minor acknowledged after his previous outing that his feel for his pitches has not felt the same since his start against the Pirates on June 4 and even though his final numbers (six innings pitched, three earned runs) did not reflect any obvious struggle, it's clear that Minor has not been the same pitcher of late. In particular, his fastball, which had developed into one of the league's best, has not been nearly as effective: after saving the Braves 2.2 runs per 100 fastballs at the end of May, he's now costing them .51 runs per 100 fastballs in June.
Against the Royals, Minor allowed nine hits, matching a season-worst mark he set in his previous start against the Mets -- so after allowing seven or more hits in just one of his first 13 starts this season, he's now given up that many hits to opponents in his past three outings. He hasn't pitched into the seventh inning since May 30 (which may be an organizational decision regardless of production, so take that for what it's worth).
"Mike did a nice job," manager Fredi Gonzalez said. "He had a couple innings that were stressful innings but I think his last two innings were the best two innings he's thrown today.'
Another curious note: Minor let up yet another home run on Wednesday, this one a solo shot by Royals outfielder Alex Gordon. Only Cory Rasmus is giving up more homers per nine innings among Braves pitchers this season.
Minor was too good in his 25 previous starts prior to this month's hiccups (dating back to last season's All-Star break) to assume he's lost "it", but he has some work to do in order to break out of his recent funk. Remember, the same thing was said about teammate Kris Medlen after his slow start, and he's doing just fine (4-1, 2.14 ERA this month).
Bad news for Minor: The funk could cost him his otherwise deserved All-Star consideration.
3. Braves suffer more injuries
Fortunately for Atlanta, it features one of the deepest rosters in baseball because the injury bug just keeps biting. Jordan Schafer and Ramiro Pena were the latest "victims" -- and there's good news and bad news. First, the bad:
Pena, the team's utility infielder who is hitting .278.330.443 with three home runs after signing as a free agent this past offseason, has a torn right labrum. He is set to undergo surgery on Thursday. His return date is undecided.
While this is a notable loss for the Braves, it, once again, is not an insurmountable one. The name Tyler Pastornicky comes to mind as an ample replacement for what Pena provides -- last season's Opening Day shortstop has four hits in 16 plate appearances this season -- as the organization has been grooming him to play multiple positions, even taken grounders at third base in practice, since Spring Training. Recent 25-man addition Paul Janish could provide a lift as well.
In better news, Jordan Schafer's X-rays came back negative Wednesday night after he fouled a ball off his right ankle and subsequently limped his way through another half inning before being replaced.
Pena joins the likes of relievers Eric O'Flaherty and Jonny Venters as Atlanta players to undergo surgery this season, while Evan Gattis, Jason Heyward, Luis Ayala and Christhian Martinez each have spent time on the disabled list for various injuries.