ATLANTA -- Considering the talent they traded away over the winter, much praise has been heaped on the A's early in 2008 as an overachieving team succeeding despite the odds.

After Sunday's 5-2 defeat to the Atlanta Braves at Turner Field, there were no slaps on the back and few complimentary words being spread in the team's clubhouse.

In fact, first baseman Mike Sweeney delivered quite the tongue-lashing regarding his team's performance during a 2-7 road trip.

"You can't let a team like the Atlanta Braves off the hook like that," Sweeney said. "It was an ugly game by us. We didn't deserve to win. We didn't play like we wanted to win. Going 2-7 on a road trip like this is inexcusable. With the talent we have, we should be embarrassed to go 2-7."

Call it a frustrated player blowing off steam, or a seasoned veteran trying to light a fire under a struggling squad. Either way, there's no denying the A's encouraging season took a wrong turn during the three-city jaunt. If it didn't do them major damage in the standings -- at 24-21 they trail the first-place Los Angeles Angels by just 11/2 games -- it certainly dealt a blow in the morale department.

The A's will try to turn things around beginning tonight, when they open a nine-game homestand against the Tampa Bay Rays. Any reversal will begin with a better job driving in runners on base.

The A's stranded 11 runners and went just 1-for-12 with men in scoring position Sunday. That leaves them hitting .100 (4-for-40) in that department during the last six games.

The A's were eight games over .500 (22-14) when they began the road trip, and delivering the key hit was a huge key to their success.

"It's just like anything else, it goes in cycles," A's manager Bob Geren said. "Sometimes it seems like you get every big two-out hit you can. There's no secret to it."

Geren usually is a fountain of optimism in his postgame media chats, even after losses. There was no such enthusiasm after Sunday's game. He spoke quietly and his answers were brief.

He was asked if he was worried at all about his team's psyche following the disappointing trip.

"Everybody is going about their business the right way," he said.

Bobby Crosby, batting second for the third straight game, mashed a solo homer to left field in the first inning to put the A's up.

The A's took the first lead in all three games against the Braves, but had trouble building on that momentum. Their run in the sixth inning Sunday was the only time in the series that they scored after the third inning.

On Sunday, they had plenty of chances. They loaded the bases in the second with no outs, but starting pitcher Justin Duchscherer -- stepping up in his first big-league at-bat -- struck out on three pitches.

Rajai Davis also went down on three pitches, and Crosby swung at the first pitch and grounded out to first to squash the threat.

In the sixth, Jack Hannahan's double scored Emil Brown to cut the Braves' lead to 3-2. With one out, Gregorio Petit drove a ball to right-center that Atlanta center fielder Mark Kotsay appeared he might catch, only to let it fall. Hannahan, staying near the second-base bag in case he had to tag up, was only able to advance to third on the double.

Pinch hitter Frank Thomas struck out on three pitches, and Ryan Sweeney, batting for Davis, grounded out to third.

Geren said it was a very tough baserunning call for Hannahan, but baserunning blunders also factored into Friday's loss, and the A's can ill afford to let scoring chances slip away. Atlanta scored two big insurance runs off Alan Embree in the eighth on Omar Infante's two-run triple down the right-field line.

Contact Joe Stiglich at jstiglic@bayareanewsgroup.com.

BRAVES 5, A'S 2

  • TODAY: Rays (James Shields 4-3) at A's (Joe Blanton 2-6), 7:05 p.m. TV: CSNBA+. Radio: 106.9-FM, 1550-AM

    INSIDE

  • Gregorio Petit makes his ML debut in place of Mark Ellis. Page 4