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Braves slap Blue Jays back down to earth with two straight wins

Toronto Blue Jays second baseman Devon Travis tags Atlanta Braves first baseman Freddie Freeman out at second base on a stolen base attempt during the seventh inning.

Frank Gunn/THE CANADIAN PRESS

The Toronto Blue Jays were hoping the Atlanta Braves would provide the soft touch they so desperately needed at this juncture of the Major League Baseball season.

Instead, the Braves are so far representing a sore spot for the Blue Jays, who dropped their second in a row to Atlanta, 9-5, at Rogers Centre on Tuesday, putting a fairly significant damper on Toronto's recent flirtation with respectability.

After Toronto fought back from three runs down to tie the game at 5-5 in the sixth inning, Dansby Swanson responded with the key blow – a solo home run in the seventh that moved the Braves ahead for good.

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The Braves then tagged on three more in the top of the ninth to make the outcome a no-doubter.

And now, after a five-game win streak where the Blue Jays showed serious signs of life for the first time this season, Toronto has hit a snag with two consecutive setbacks to one of baseball's worst outfits.

And the Blue Jays can certainly count themselves among that lower echelon, their record now 17-23.

Toronto manager John Gibbons said he did not view the two setbacks to the Braves as a lost opportunity for the Blue Jays to build on their recent string of good fortune.

"Its competition, you know, at the highest level," Gibbons said. "I'm proud of these guys.

"Really, the last two nights, we haven't been able to shut down their offence, and they've got a good one. Those guys in the middle, we had a tough time with them."

The Blue Jays will not have much time to reflect on their recent misfortune as they now head for Atlanta, where they will continue the interleague battle against the Braves with two more games on Wednesday and Thursday.

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It was not supposed to play out this way against the struggling Braves in Toronto, with the Blue Jays – despite the continued absence of key personnel due to injury – playing their best baseball of the season.

Kevin Pillar swatted his sixth home run for Toronto, while Devon Travis, continuing to emerge from a horrible start with the bat, rapped out two doubles, giving him six in the past three games.

But it was his last at-bat in the eighth inning, with Toronto trailing 6-5 and runners at first and second and nobody out, that provided one of the game's main talking points.

Instead of having Travis swing away to try to at least tie the score, Gibbons elected instead to have him attempt a sacrifice bunt to move the runners up.

Travis wound up striking out before Darwin Barney hit into a double play to end the potential uprising.

"We're down a run, get a guy at third base, contact and maybe score at least the tying run," Gibbons explained. "And you get a big hit and you take the lead."

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The Braves got the early jump on Toronto and its starting pitcher Marco Estrada scoring twice in the top of the first inning after Estrada was raked for four hits.

The Braves extended Estrada to 34 pitches in the frame to set the tone for what was a rugged afternoon for the normally reliable right hander.

Estrada was tagged for five of the Atlanta runs off eight hits, including a two-run home run by Freddie Freeman, over six innings.

Atlanta brought the score to 3-0 in the fourth inning when Tyler Flowers scored from second base on a single to right by Jace Peterson.

Toronto had not collected a hit through the first three innings off Atlanta starter Jaime Garcia, but that changed quickly in the fourth when Pillar led off with a double.

Justin Smoak then earned a two-out walk, one of three free passes he had in the game. And both base runners would come around to score when Travis lashed his first double of the game to right-centre to cut Atlanta's lead to 3-2.

The teams got into a little long ball after that, starting with Freeman, who launched his 14th of the season off Estrada in the top of the fifth, a two-run shot that made the score 5-2.

Pillar got one back in the bottom half of the frame with his sixth home run and his 51st hit of the season. He led the majors in hits heading into Tuesday night's action.

Travis set the table for Toronto's two-run sixth inning, following a Smoak walk with his second double of the game that left the Blue Jays with runners at second and third.

A single by Darwin Barney brought home the first run, a groundout by Ezequiel Carrera another, and the score was tied at five.

But not for long.

With Danny Barnes now on the mound in relief of Estrada, Swanson, the Braves' No. 9 hitter, took one over the wall in centre to put Atlanta back out in front 6-5.

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