ATLANTA (AP) — Jeff Locke attempted to shrug off an ugly loss as "just another game that didn't go your way."
With the Pirates in a tight division race, however, it was much more.
Locke gave up six runs in only four innings and the Pirates missed a chance to move up in the NL Central race, falling to the Atlanta Braves 6-2 on Wednesday night.
It marked the second time in five September starts Locke (7-6) failed to last longer than four innings. He allowed 13 baserunners — eight hits and five walks — in the short start.
Locke said he struggled "pretty much the whole game, really."
Manager Clint Hurdle said Locke's pitches were "up in the zone" and he lacked consistency with his fastball and secondary pitches.
"So it was tough for him out there," Hurdle said.
The Pirates, who clinched a playoff spot on Tuesday night, stayed 1½ games behind division-leading St. Louis, which was beaten by the Cubs. Pittsburgh lost for only the fourth time in its last 19 games.
Hurdle wouldn't say if the start could affect Locke's role in the playoffs.
"You know what, we're not even there," Hurdle said. "We'll have those conversations when we need to. That's not a question I'm going to answer tonight. When we sit down, we'll look at the volume of work and we'll look at matchups."
Andrew McCutchen had two hits, including a two-run homer in the fifth inning after Atlanta led 6-0.
The Pirates had two baserunners in the ninth before Braves closer Craig Kimbrel struck out McCutchen and Travis Snider for his 45th save.
"We still battled," McCutchen said. "We still fought at the end."
Pittsburgh catcher Russell Martin left the game in the fifth inning with tightness in his left hamstring.
"I didn't tweak it; it's just tight," Martin said, adding it was "a smart and cautious decision" to leave the game and guard against a more serious hamstring injury.
Justin Upton hit a two-run homer and pitcher Julio Teheran and Emilio Bonifacio each had two-run singles asAtlanta ended a five-game losing streak. Teheran (14-13) allowed six hits and two runs in five innings.
The Braves improved their dismal September record to 5-16. Their six runs matched their combined output in the five straight losses.
Pittsburgh lost a day after its clubhouse celebration at Turner Field, where champagne and beer flowed freely. The Pirates wrapped up their postseason berth exactly one year after clinching a place in the 2013 playoffs to end a 21-year drought.
McCutchen drove in Starling Marte, who had two hits, with his 25th homer.
Christian Bethancourt hit two ground-rule doubles for Atlanta.