PITTSBURGH -- The Pirates' Most Valuable Player returned to a gracious ovation on Tuesday night. It was about the only cheering the PNC Park crowd did all night.
Andrew McCutchen returned from the disabled list, but it was more of the same for the Pirates, who were soundly beaten by the Braves, 11-3, stretching their losing streak to seven games. For the second night in a row, the Pirates never led. Francisco Liriano, meanwhile, had one of the worst starts of his season.
The weeklong skid matches the Bucs' longest streak since they dropped seven in a row from Sept. 7-14, 2012. At 64-62, Pittsburgh is just two games above .500 for the first time since June 23 (42-40).
"We've had situations where we haven't played a complete game, haven't finished games, especially the ones had late lead," manager Clint Hurdle said about his team's winless week. "This is all about the challenge of 162. It's up to us to get us turned back around."
Liriano gave up the most runs (nine) and earned runs (seven) he's allowed in 2014, starting with an RBI single by Braves pitcher Aaron Harang in the second. Liriano's night worsened with Justin Upton's three-run homer in the third and a Jason Heyward RBI single the following inning.
But it was the fifth frame that did in the lefty. The Braves -- who are trending in the opposite direction of the Pirates with five consecutive victories -- loaded the bases with an error, a single and a walk before recording an out. The next batter, B.J. Upton, sent a line drive off the left-field wall for a lengthy single that ended Liriano's night.
Three more Atlanta runners scored in the inning with reliever Brandon Cumpton on the mound, and when the dust settled, Liriano was charged with the nine runs on 10 hits and three walks in four-plus innings.
"I was missing my spot a lot and it was one of those nights where everything I was throwing was going to get hit," Liriano said. "They've been pretty hot the last couple games -- last night too. It was just one of those nights. ... Got to put it behind me and move forward."
Liriano left the field to groans among the 27,033 in attendance, as Tuesday marked the first time he has allowed more than two earned runs in a start during the second half of the season.
"We saw early, some complications came when he got in the stretch, throughout the outing," Hurdle said of Liriano. "Wasn't sharp, there were a lot of balls thigh high. They didn't bite on much of the chase stuff while he was out there. The command was challenging for him."
The 11 runs the Braves scored were the most any team has collected against the Pirates during the streak. The final one was a deafening solo homer from Evan Gattis, who hit the second level of the left-field rotunda. The final two Atlanta runs were charged to Cumpton, who did a favor to the rest of his bullpen mates by chewing up the last five innings.
Cumpton also provided one-third of the Pirates' offense with a run-scoring single in the fifth for his first career RBI. A Neil Walker RBI groundout in the fourth and Ike Davis' single in the ninth were the only other sources of offense for the Pirates.
McCutchen went 0-for-4 with a strikeout in his first game since Aug. 3 after missing 14 games with a fractured rib, and he was not the only one kept in check by Harang. The 6-foot-7 righty came two outs short of a complete game, giving up three runs on nine hits. He struck out four and didn't walk a hitter while throwing 114 pitches.
"I felt like I was locating and getting ahead early," Harang said. "I wasn't getting deep into counts a lot and they were being aggressive. My guys were there to make plays for me."
The Brewers -- who host the Pirates for a three-game set this weekend -- won again Tuesday, pushing Pittsburgh seven games back in the National League Central, the team's largest deficit since July 1. The Pirates will get another injured star back Wednesday in Gerrit Cole, and while the clock is ticking, McCutchen noted there is still time left in the season.
"Get it out of the way now. That's the way I look at it," McCutchen said of the losing streak. "Get it out of the way now. We know it's time to pick it up, time to go. But as bad as we are doing, we're still kind of in the hunt of things. Just pick it up, get that second wind and get going."
Stephen Pianovich is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.