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After the firing of GM Frank Wren, Braves extend terrible month with 1-0 loss to Pittsburgh

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ATLANTA — On a day that began with the firing of general manager Frank Wren, the Atlanta Braves stayed true to their script this month.

Inept hitting undermines solid pitching. Again.

"Yeah, that's how we feel every day," first baseman Freddie Freeman said. "We always seem to have a couple of guys on. We just never can get the big hit."

Getting shut out for the sixth time in September, Atlanta lost 1-0 as Andrew McCutchen homered, Francisco Liriano won his fourth straight start and the Pittsburgh Pirates moved closer to a postseason berth.

The Braves lost their fourth straight to drop to 4-15 in September, worst in the majors. They were eliminated from playoff contention Sunday.

Atlanta's struggles, combined with a bloated payroll and punchless offense, led team president John Schuerholz to announce Wren's dismissal at a midday news conference.

Not surprisingly, the Braves lost, going 0 for 5 with runners in scoring position and striking out 11 times.

"Just the same story, different day," Freeman said. "We've got six games left. Hopefully we can score some runs so we don't go really insane in the offseason."

The Braves dropped to 8-53 when scoring two runs or less. Of their 16 shutouts this season, nine have come at Turner Field.

The Pirates, winners in 10 of their last 12, have a five-game lead over Milwaukee with six games remaining for both teams. Any combination of two Pittsburgh wins or Brewers losses guarantees the Pirates of at least a spot in the NL wild-card game for the second straight year.

Pittsburgh still has hopes of winning the NL Central, but it remained 2½ games back after St. Louis beat the Cubs 8-0 in Chicago. Milwaukee didn't play Monday.

Aaron Harang (11-12) allowed four hits and one run with two walks and seven strikeouts in seven innings. He made one mistake — to McCutchen, the 2013 NL MVP — in the sixth.

"I was trying to throw him a backdoor sinker," Harang said. "The ball didn't sink. It just tailed and came back over the middle of the plate. That's why he was an MVP last year — the guy doesn't miss mistakes."

McCutchen enjoyed some silence after hitting his 24th homer. The blast shut up fans who had been heckling from behind home plate.

PHOTO: A ball off the bat of Atlanta Braves' Christian Bethancourt falls just out of reach of Pittsburgh Pirates second baseman Neil Walker (18) for a base hit in the second inning of a baseball game  Monday, Sept. 22, 2014, in Atlanta. (AP Photo/John Bazemore)
A ball off the bat of Atlanta Braves' Christian Bethancourt falls just out of reach of Pittsburgh Pirates second baseman Neil Walker (18) for a base hit in the second inning of a baseball game Monday, Sept. 22, 2014, in Atlanta. (AP Photo/John Bazemore)

"They like to talk to you as if you're an animal in the zoo, and you can't say anything back," McCutchen said. "I had a little bit of that going into that at-bat and I hit the big home run. I couldn't hear anything. It was as quiet as a church. It's always good to get the last laugh."

Liriano (7-10) allowed three hits, walked four and struck out seven in six innings. He extended his consecutive scoreless streak to 28 innings.

Liriano has a 0.69 ERA over his last five starts and 39 innings. He left the game when Jose Tabata pinch-hit in the seventh.

Pittsburgh has played three consecutive 1-0 games, winning the past two.

Mark Melancon faced four batters in the ninth to earn his 32nd save in 36 chances. Jared Hughes pitched the seventh and John Holdzkom the eighth for the Pirates, combining for three strikeouts and one hit allowed.

Pittsburgh starters have pitched 23 consecutive scoreless innings. The Pirates' bullpen has 1.15 ERA over its last 17 games.

UP NEXT

Pirates: RHP Gerrit Cole (10-5) has won three straight starts and seven of his last nine decisions.

Braves: LHP Alex Wood (11-10) helped beat the Pirates in his only start against them on Aug. 19, but did not receive a decision.

OH, BROTHER

Atlanta LF Justin Upton hopes that his older brother, CF B.J. Upton, gets a chance to return for a third season despite a .197 batting average and 321 strikeouts in 264 games with the Braves.

The team still owes B.J. Upton over $46.3 million through 2017.

"When it's not going your way, it's just not going your way," Justin Upton said. "He's going to have to pick himself up and try to come back next year stronger. That's in the cards for him."

DROP ME DOWN

Braves RF Jason Heyward, sidelined the last four games by a bruised left thumb, prefers to bat farther down in the lineup next year. He's spent most of the last two seasons as the primary leadoff hitter.

"If you have someone who can run the bases like me in the middle of the lineup, I like it," Heyward said. "Not being a table setter in the leadoff spot versus going, 'Hey, get a guy over. You don't have to have a big hit here.' Take some pressure off somebody."

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