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AP photo by Morry Gash / Atlanta Braves center fielder Ender Inciarte reacts after failing to catch a two-run homer hit by the Milwaukee Brewers' Avisail Garcia off Huascar Ynoa during the fifth inning of Sunday's game. Ynoa lasted just 4 1/3 innings after a string of solid starts, and bullpen trouble also played a part in the Braves' 10-9 loss.

Atlanta Braves skipper Brian Snitker sounded almost like a guy whose team had won instead of lost on Sunday afternoon. Apparently losing 10-9 on the road to the Milwaukee Brewers after trailing 8-0 at the close of the sixth inning can do that to a person.

"The comeback was great," Snitker said. "Definitely great to see the guys keep coming back. Just didn't do a good enough job of damage control."

The lack of damage control Snitker referred to came from Atlanta's leaky bullpen, which, if we're referencing Beatles songs, just might have more holes than the roads in Blackburn, Lancashire.

Yet somehow, some way, from that 8-0 deficit, the Bravos almost found a way to win their third straight in Suds City before settling for a 2-1 series win as they headed home for a Monday game against the New York Mets.

Yet for all the effort at the plate — including Freddie Freeman's seventh-inning grand slam — in many ways this latest loss was a microcosm of so many of Atlanta's previous 20 defeats some 40 games into this 2021 season.

Or as Snitker lamented: "Just didn't do a good job in the bullpen. Everybody in the bullpen has to share the load."

Once Chris Martin and Shane Greene return this week, the bullpen should improve. Already on Sunday, Sean Newcomb pitched an inspired seventh despite dealing with a bases-loaded mess mostly not of his own making. The oft-maligned Luke Jackson also tossed a scoreless eighth to give the Braves a chance.

But by then, Jesse Biddle had walked four and allowed three earned runs after replacing starter Huascar Ynoa, who surrendered five runs in 4 1/3 innings.

Still, maybe life will get better in the pen moving forward. It couldn't get much worse, as witness its six total walks, three hits and five earned runs allowed in just 3 2/3 innings Sunday. Nor could it do more to waste the offensive output of the Braves, whose 187 runs scored ranks fifth in the National League and ninth in all of MLB.

An ominous sign for Braves Nation: According to the website talkingchop.com, the Braves haven't reached the playoffs with a losing record this deep into the season since 2010. They're 19-21, the three-time NL East champions still not having gotten over the .500 mark this season.

There's also this negative from the offensive side: As of late last week, the Braves were 28th in MLB in eighth-inning runs scored and 23rd in ninth-inning runs scored. This from a team that won eight games in its final at-bat last season and has won 85 such games since Snitker took over as manager in 2016.

Yes, that trend seems to be changing after the Braves' 12-inning win over the Philadelphia Phillies last week, Sunday's just short comeback and more routine victories Friday and Saturday in Milwaukee.

As TV analyst and former Braves outfielder Jeff Francoeur noted late Sunday afternoon: "Even with this loss, this looks more like the Braves team we saw last year."

Yet this is also an Atlanta team that is now 1-15 when trailing after six innings this season. That can't be all on the relievers, though for a bullpen that was second in the NL a year ago and fourth in all of baseball, to rank 23rd in bullpen ERA this season is to wonder just good the Braves can become in 2021.

Especially with starting pitcher Mike Soroka's return again uncertain, the hitting inconsistent and the bullpen unreliable.

Again, it's still just past the middle of May. IF the bullpen improves, and IF the offense gets a little more dangerous down the stretch and IF the starting pitching suffers no more injuries, Atlanta might make a strong stretch run in an NL East that seems more balanced than beastly as a division. The Braves' offensive potential still appears capable of carrying the pitching more days than not.

But there are days the pitching has to shoulder its share of the load. They're professionals. They need to perform like it more days than not.

Or as Snitker said Sunday, happy with his offense but not so much with his relief pitching: "Those guys are down there (in the bullpen). They have to do their job."

Or one day down the road, they could easily cost Snitker his job.

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Mark Wiedmer

Contact Mark Wiedmer at mwiedmer@timesfreepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @TFPWeeds.

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