Barring an unlikely turnaround, the Atlanta Braves will be watching the playoffs for only the second time in five years.
The blame can be placed on an anemic offense that hasn't come together all season.Following another lackluster effort at the plate, the Braves will try to extend their slim postseason chances while avoiding their 10th loss in 12 games Saturday night against the visiting New York Mets.Although it ranks in baseball's top five with a 3.34 ERA, Atlanta (76-77) sits 29th in the majors at 3.6 runs per game while ranking in the bottom third with a .242 batting average and 118 home runs.The Braves have been especially punchless of late, averaging 2.1 runs and hitting .214 while dropping 13 of 18. They finished with just five hits Friday, getting shut out for the 15th time in a series-opening 5-0 defeat.Jason Heyward has gone 2 for 15 in his last five games, but could be out for a third straight contest due to a bruised left thumb. Catcher Evan Gattis has missed the past 10 as he recovers from strep throat and a kidney stone.Atlanta, which hasn't finished below .500 since 2008, was eliminated from the division race Tuesday. The Braves were just one game back of a wild-card spot on Aug. 29, but now they're seven out with nine to play."You've got to take it one at-bat at a time, one play at a time and hope for the best," said Andrelton Simmons, who had three hits Friday. "But it's really frustrating right now."Mike Minor (6-11, 4.74 ERA), who hasn't received any runs in his last three outings, looks to avoid a career-worst four-start losing streak in the second of this three-game set at Turner Field.The left-hander posted a 2.59 ERA over six straight quality starts before allowing five runs over 4 2/3 innings in Sunday's 10-3 loss at Texas. He's 5-2 with a 4.50 ERA in 12 career starts against the Mets (74-80), though he pitched well in his last two.Six days after allowing four runs over 4 1/3 innings in a 5-4 home win, Minor gave up two runs and two hits over seven innings in a 4-3, 11-inning road loss July 7. He then surrendered one run and four hits over seven in a 6-1 road win Aug. 28.New York's Daniel Murphy matched a career high with four hits Friday, while Lucas Duda hit a two-run home run."Guys at this level can do things that are special," Mets manager Terry Collins said. "I want to see us finish up like that."Murphy has a .477 average in his last 15 road games and is 9 for 17 with four doubles in his last four overall against the Braves. However, he's struggled with a home run and two doubles in 21 career at-bats versus Minor.Jonathon Niese (8-11, 3.55) has given up three runs with 14 strikeouts over 13 2/3 innings in his last two starts after allowing a season high-tying six runs in a win at Miami on Sept. 2.Niese, 6-6 with a 3.50 ERA in 17 career starts versus Atlanta, allowed one run and four hits over six innings in a 6-0 home loss April 18. The left-hander also opposed Minor in late August, giving up three runs over 7 1/3 in that home defeat.Perhaps Minor can give Atlanta a boost after he went 2 for 3 with a double off Niese in that contest.