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PHI@ATL: Minor fans five over 7 1/3 innings

ATLANTA -- Twenty-four hours after being held hitless, the Braves arrived at Turner Field on Tuesday with reason to believe the law of averages -- or at least the opportunity to oppose Kyle Kendrick -- would allow them to briefly escape the misery created by their latest futile offensive stretch.

But instead of taking advantage of the two leadoff doubles that Jason Heyward delivered, the Braves instead endured their third shutout in their past four games. Their inability to extend Kendrick's struggles forced Mike Minor to dwell on the two costly mistakes he made in a 4-0 loss to the Phillies.

"It's a talented group of guys," Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez said. "We're not real pretty to watch right now."

Carlos Ruiz's home run to begin the fifth inning proved to be the decisive blow against the Braves, who have totaled one run over the past four games. Maybe more telling is the fact that since scoring 28 runs over the four games played Aug. 18-21, they have totaled 23 runs over the 11 games that have followed.

"We're so streaky," Braves third baseman Chris Johnson said. "The next thing you know, we'll reel off six or seven straight. It's hard. We've just got to find that consistency."

If the Braves continue to average 2.09 runs, like they have over these last 11 games, they might soon be able to begin making October vacation plans. But because the Brewers are also currently in the midst of a rough stretch, the Braves remain 1 1/2 games back in the battle to secure the National League's second Wild Card spot.

Though the Braves may not have been humiliated when Cole Hamels and three Phillies relievers recorded the 11th combined no-hitter in Major League history during Monday's series opener, they certainly had reason to be humbled when they recorded just three hits in the seven innings completed by Kendrick, who entered Tuesday having posted a 6.59 ERA over his past 10 starts.

"What happened yesterday, I'm sure they were going to come out and try to be aggressive," Kendrick said. "I made some quality pitches, guys made some good plays. I got a couple ground balls. That was big."

Heyward's doubles in the first and sixth innings accounted for two of the three hits the Braves have notched through the first 18 innings of this three-game set that concludes Wednesday afternoon. The only other hit surrendered by Kendrick was a third-inning single by Andrelton Simmons, who was thrown out after Freddie Freeman swung through a third strike on a hit-and-run.

It did not look like the Braves would need to find ways to manufacture necessary runs when they loaded the bases in the first after Freeman walked and Justin Upton was hit on the left triceps by a pitch. But Kendrick responded by recording consecutive strikeouts of Evan Gattis and Johnson.

Such has been a way of life over the past few years for the Braves, who are on pace to record 1,381 strikeouts, which would fall just three short of the franchise record that has been set in each of the past three seasons.

"We're a talented group of guys and we're just not getting runs," Gonzalez said. "We're not moving the line. We're not putting the ball in play when we have to. It's just frustrating."

After Gattis was hit with a pitch in the fourth inning, Johnson grounded into a double play for the 22nd time this season. The Atlanta record is 24, shared by Andruw Jones (2004) and Yunel Escobar ('08).

"It stinks right now, not only for me personally, but for the team as well," Johnson said. "It's tough. We've got a lot of guys struggling and we're losing. It's a lot easier to deal with yourself struggling if you're winning ballgames, but we're just not clicking at all offensively."

Minor, who has a 2.52 ERA over his past five starts, should have had little reason to fret after being charged with three earned runs over 7 1/3 innings. The sinker on which he has heavily relied over the past few weeks came back over the plate against Ruiz in the fifth and proved futile against Darin Ruf, who sent it the other way for an RBI single in the sixth inning.

Squandering Minor's latest effort was nothing new for the Braves, who have notched just four wins as their starting pitchers have produced a 2.58 ERA over their past 10 games.

"I feel like this has been the year for us letting down our pitching staff," Johnson said. "It feels like every time our pitchers give a quality start, they're leaving with a loss. It stinks as an offense. For me, it's hard to look [the pitchers] in the face."

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