The Braves and Cubs battled to a standstill for seven-and-a-half innings, but the dynamic duo at the top of Atlanta’s lineup changed all that in just a few swings. With one out in the bottom of the eighth, Ozzie Albies hit a ringing triple, and scored moments later on a shot into left by Ronald Acuña Jr. That gave the Braves a lead they wouldn’t relinquish, as Arodys Vizcaino bounced back from last night’s dreadful outing to slam the door in 1-2-3 fashion.
This was a bounceback of all sorts for the Braves. Not only did they get revenge on the Cubs for last night’s horrid debacle, they also enjoyed a change-of-pace effort from Brandon McCarthy. The veteran righty had been in arguably the worst two-start stretch of his career but stifled the Cubs across six innings, allowing just a single run and only seven baserunners total, while striking out eight.
Tyler Chatwood was working on a very strange season coming into tonight’s game, outplaying all of his peripherals and somehow making it work despite a dreadful walk rate. That wasn’t quite the Tyler Chatwood that showed up tonight, though the Braves displayed much of their aggressiveness at the plate, limiting the trouble Chatwood could wind himself into. They did, however, strike first after McCarthy worked around a one-out Kris Bryant double in the top of the first. Ozzie Albies clubbed the first Chatwood pitch he saw into right center for a leadoff double. Ronald Acuña Jr. then worked a full count before lacing a grounder to second base, advancing Albies to third despite being thrown out. Freddie Freeman then mauled a single over the drawn-in infield to score Albies, giving the Braves an early lead. Both Acuña (110 mph) and Freeman (104) mph really teed off on Chatwood in the inning, but it wasn’t really a sign of things to come. Nick Markakis grounded into a double play to send the game onward.
The early innings were quiet. McCarthy allowed a few baserunners (leadoff single in the second, one out single in the third, leadoff walk in the fourth) but kept the Cubs off balance and off the board. He endured a few scary moments, such as a Kris Bryant fly ball to left that seemed like it might leave the yard but nestled harmlessly into Acuña’s glove, and a hard liner off the bat of Anthony Rizzo that was fielded by Albies at second, but was steady overall. Meanwhile, the Braves did nothing against Chatwood, who at one point retired nine straight before a two-out walk to Nick Markakis in the fourth snapped the streak of futility. Tyler Flowers then doubled on a liner to left, but the ball caromed in a way that prevented Nick Markakis from scoring. Ender Inciarte then harmlessly flied out to end that particular threat.
(As a note, that streak of nine straight retired featured a ridiculous catch by Albert Almora Jr. to rob Tyler Flowers of an extra-base hit at the center field wall.)
The Cubs finally cashed in one of their baserunners in the fifth. Ian Happ hit a leadoff single, moved to second on a sacrifice bunt, and then scored on a Kris Bryant two-out single to left. Acuña made a diving attempt on the liner, but could only trap it, and Happ scored easily. McCarthy then bounced back to carve up Anthony Rizzo on three high fastballs. The Braves were once again victimized by the double play in the bottom of the inning, as Ryan Flaherty’s bouncer erased a leadoff walk drawn by Johan Camargo.
McCarthy finished his night with a flourish in the sixth. He allowed yet another leadoff baserunner to reach, this time via walk. However, three well-placed fastballs finished off Javier Baez looking, and Kyle Schwarber hit a hard shot to Freeman that turned into a double play.
With one out in the sixth, a single by Acuña chased Chatwood. He finished his night with four hits, two walks, and one run allowed, along with two strikeouts. Chicago manager Joe Maddon brought in lefty Brian Duensing to face Atlanta’s upcoming lefties. The move looked like it might backfire when Duensing walked Freddie Freeman, but Nick Markakis beat a 2-2 curveball into the ground to first and couldn’t beat out the relay throw, hitting into his second twin killing of the game. The game remained tied.
The Braves brought Shane Carle on for the top of the seventh, and he had a momentary lapse of excellence, as he allowed a leadoff double to Addison Russell. But, “momentary” was the key word there, as the next three batters were retired via harmless fly out, pop out, and a five-pitch strikeout featuring some nasty sliders for swinging strikes two and three. The Braves did nothing against Steve Cishek in the bottom of the inning; Shane Carle was then lifted in the top of the eighth after allowing a leadoff single to Bryant.
That potentially-dangerous situation led to A.J. Minter being summoned from the bullpen. Minter made fans’ hearts beat a bit too hard, especially after allowing a single back up the box on an eye-level pitch to Willson Contreras. But, a strikeout of Baez and a groundout from Schwarber ended the threat, sending the game to the fateful bottom of the eighth.
The Cubs brought on Carl Edwards Jr., who’s (weirdly enough) been their most valuable pitcher to date. Fortunately for the Braves, Edwards did not deliver those same results tonight. After pinch-hitter Preston Tucker lined out, Ozzie Albies smashed a high fastball into right-center that split the Cubs’ outfield alignment, and he flew into third seconds later. Acuña brought him home two pitches later, lacing a hanging curveball into left field. After that, the inning descended into something a bit battier. Freddie Freeman chopped a grounder to an empty left side of the infield. The play went as a single, but Acuña streaked into third ahead of the throw, and Freeman advanced to second. The Cubs then elected to intentionally walk Nick Markakis, which backfired when Edwards walked Tyler Flowers, driving in the third Atlanta run. Maddon then lifted Edwards for Justin Hancock, who sort of rewarded the decision by striking out Inciarte, but then un-rewarded it by walking Camargo, pushing the score to 4-1 in favor of the Braves.
That was pretty much it — Ryan Flaherty rolled out to end the inning, and then Arodys Vizcaino came on and threw just 13 pitches for a 1-2-3 save, striking out one in the process. Ben Zobrist, the Cubs’ last hope, actually hit a liner pretty hard, but it was snagged by Camargo to end the game.
With the Phillies winning, the Braves kept pace in the NL East standings tonight, retaining their first-place position for another page of the calendar. The top of the lineup (Albies, Acuña, Freeman) did work in this one, collecting six of the team’s seven hits and scoring all of its runs.
The Braves will see the Cubs for the last time tomorrow night, as Mike Soroka takes the hill against Jon Lester.