ATLANTA -- As the past week has progressed, the Braves have made a habit of proving things actually can get worse.
Instead of enjoying Brian McCann's return to the lineup on Monday afternoon, the Braves endured yet another shaky outing from one of their starting pitchers and saw their losing streak extended to eight games with an ugly 8-2 setback against the Cardinals.
One week after owning the National League's second-best record, the Braves find themselves tied with the Phillies for last place in the NL East.
"I don't think anyone is panicking right now," Braves starter Tommy Hanson said. "Obviously when we come to the field, we want to win and we want to win that night. But nobody is panicking around here. We're still above .500 right now. As soon as we start playing good. ... We were just in first place."
Hanson shouldered much of the blame as he allowed a season-high six earned runs and lasted a season-short 3 1/3 innings in this latest loss. After going 0-for-5 with a runner at third base in the first two innings, the Cardinals broke through as the Braves made far too many mistakes in the decisive four-run third inning.
Starting for the first time since coming down with a bad flu bug last Tuesday, McCann saw the Cardinals score the game's first run when he prepared for a fastball and then whiffed on the curveball that Hanson threw. Moments earlier, St. Louis had loaded the bases on a slow Matt Adams roller to the right of the first base bag. Hanson did not cover first on the play, and Eric Hinske showed his unfamiliarity to the first-base position by reacting in an indecisive manner.
"It was just one of those in-between plays," Hanson said. "I probably could have made a better effort to get it. It was just kind of in between there. That's just kind of how it's been going lately. We've got to do something to get this monkey off of our back."
This is the most trying span the Braves have experienced since squandering an 8 1/2-game NL Wild Card lead and being surpassed by the Cardinals on the final day of the 2011 season. The eight-game skid is their longest since losing nine straight games in April '10.
When the Braves were swept in a four-game series last week in Cincinnati, they were victimized by a few costly home runs and weakened by the ailments afflicting Chipper Jones, Freddie Freeman and McCann. Then the pitching staff started to mimic the struggles of an injury-depleted lineup against the Nationals this past weekend.
Still, after being swept by the Reds and Nationals, the Braves were hoping their fortunes would change against a Cardinals team they had swept just two weeks ago in St. Louis. But it was the defending World Series champions who shook off their recent frustrations while winning just six of their previous 17 games.
"You just go through those streaks all the time, good and bad," Cardinals manager Mike Matheny said. "That was just an aggressive display of an offensive approach [by the Braves] when we were in St. Louis. That's the kind of offense we were giving people headaches with. That offense has great potential. They have a good pitching staff. It's a good team. They're just going to go through the peaks and valleys."
Daniel Descalso capped the third inning with a two-run home run. Former Brave Rafael Furcal then highlighted his three-hit day with a one-out home run in the fourth. Hanson's day was complete when he walked the next two batters.
During the past five games, Braves starting pitchers have totaled 25 1/3 innings and posted a 7.82 ERA.
"A lot of our loss today was my inability to go out, compete and give us a chance to win," Hanson said. "Giving up six runs in three innings when we're not playing well isn't going to get the job done. I take a lot of the blame today."
Juan Francisco's two-run single off Cardinals starter Lance Lynn with two outs in the fourth inning accounted for the Braves' only runs. This was one of the four hits Atlanta has recorded in 35 at-bats with runners in scoring position during the eight-game skid.
While going hitless in four at-bats, McCann did not make an impact with his return. But his presence should certainly aid an offense that has batted .178 and totaled 20 runs in the eight straight losses.
"We were rolling," McCann said. "We were in Tampa and Chipper went down and Freeman went down and I went down. That's [your Nos.] 4, 5 and 6 [hitters] out of the middle of the order. You take that out of anybody's lineup, the team is going to suffer. We've just got to stay afloat. We got ourselves off to a really good start and we hit a bump in the road right here. We have to bear down and start winning some games."
Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.