ATLANTA -- Even in games when the Braves hadn't provided Aaron Harang with much or any run support, they played crisp defense behind the veteran pitcher. That changed Monday, when an error by the Braves' best defender led to two unearned runs in a 4-3 loss that extended the Braves' skid to seven games.
They rallied most of the way back from 4-0 deficit with a two-run sixth inning and Ramiro Pena's seventh-inning homer, but the Braves couldn't complete the comeback.
Jason Heyward doubled with one out in the seventh and was stranded there when the inning ended, and the Braves had two on in the ninth when Justin Upton struck out looking to end the game, his fourth strikout of the night and 11th in four games.
The Braves went 1-for-12 with runners in scoring position, and are 6-for-51 in those situations during their seven-game losing streak, their longest since an eight-game skid in May 2012.
The Cardinals broke a scoreless tie with a three-run fifth inning, aided by Gold Glove shortstop Simmons' botched grounder. In losing his second consecutive start, Harang (3-3) was charged with nine hits, four runs (two earned) and one walk with six strikeouts in six innings.
After totaling three runs and going 3-for-21 with runners in scoring position while getting swept by the Giants during a three-game weekend series, the Braves' RISP futility continued with a new team in town. Their leadoff hitter reached base in four of the first five innings, including a third-inning double, and the Braves failed to score in any of those situations.
Their only hit in 10 at-bats with a runner in scoring position came in the sixth inning, when Justin Upton drew a leadoff walk and Freddie Freeman singled. With runners on the corners, Evan Gattis singled in the Braves' first run. B.J. Upton followed with a sacrifice fly to cut the lead to 4-2.
The Braves had runners at second and third with one out in the first inning after a Jason Heyward leadoff walk and Freddie Freeman double. But Shelby Miller (4-2) got out of the jam by striking out both Gattis and B.J. Upton to end the inning.
B.J. Upton hit fifth and Justin Upton batted second in a revamped batting order that manager Fredi Gonzalez deployed in an attempt to shake things up. The more glaring change had the pitcher batting eighth ahead of Pena, who started in place of struggling second baseman Dan Uggla.
After Pena bounced a double over the right-center field fence to start the third inning, Heyward and Justin Upton both struck out and Freeman lined out to the warning track to end the inning. That made the Braves 0-for-5 with four strikeouts with runners in scoring position through three innings.
The Cardinals didn't have a runner reach base with less than two outs until the fifth inning, but when they did they capitalized.
Simmons didn't play Sunday because of what Gonzalez termed a "family matter." He was back in the lineup Monday, but his defense wasn't up to its usual exemplary standards, as evident by misplayed grounders in the third and fifth innings. Both looked like errors but were initially ruled hits, although the fifth-inning ruling was later changed.
Peter Bourjos singled to lead off the fifth, and Mark Ellis hit a grounder near second base that Simmons appeared to take his eye off for a moment to size up whether he had a shot at a double play. When the ball bounced off his glove the Cardinals had runners at first and second with none out.
A sacrifice bunt later, Matt Carpenter hit a two-run double up the middle for a 2-0 lead. One out later, Matt Holliday lined a one-hop single that skipped off Johnson's glove into left field, bringing in the third run..
The Cardinals added a run in the sixth on three consecutive singles to start the inning against Harang, who got out of a bases-loaded situation without further damage by inducing a comebacker from Molina. Harang threw to third for the force to end the inning.
Bourjos was initially called safe on the play, but on appeal it was overturned.
The Braves tried to play small ball in the fifth after Simmons' leadoff single. Harang's sacrifice bunt and Pena's groundout moved Simmons to third, but Heyward lined out to second baseman Ellis, who made a leaping stop to end the inning.
At that point the Braves were 0-for-7 with runners in scoring position. They went 0-for-4 with runners in scoring position and two outs, sinking their majors-worst average in those situations to .123 (13-for-106) including Freeman's 5-for-9.
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