A Tip of the Recap – April 29 (Cubs 6, Braves 1)
Cubs Record: 17-5
W: Pedro Strop (1-0)
L: Jim Johnson (0-3)
MVP: Matt Szczur
It was a grind to two, but it was a swing to six.
After scuffling through the early innings against Braves starter Aaron Blair, the Cubs broke through in the 8th inning, plating five runs. Four of those came off the bat of Matt Szczur, whose grand slam just cleared the basket in left.
The Braves lone run of the day came on a Freddie Freeman solo shot to right in the 4th, as Jon Lester held the Braves pretty much in check.
Down 1-0 in the 5th, Javier Baez led off the inning with a double down the left field line, and David Ross came through for the second day in a row with a big hit, this one a liner to left that knocked in Baez and tied the game.
In the Cubs big 8th inning, it looked like it was destined to be another wasted opportunity after Tommy La Stella (who had doubled to lead off the inning) was thrown out heading to third on a Dexter Fowler bunt attempt. But Jason Heyward worked a nice at-bat and walked and Ben Zobrist followed with a single to load the bases for Anthony Rizzo, who did what Rizzo does, knocking in the game-winning run on a single to center.
Rizzo is now tied for second in the majors with 23 runs batted in. Matt Szczur followed with his first career grand slam, closing the door on a potential Braves comeback and cementing a Cubs win into the standings.
The Cubs moved to 17-5 on the season Friday afternoon, helping Joe Maddon tie his best start as a manager (2010 with the Tampa Bay Rays). Even on a day when it didn’t seem like much was going on, the Cubs still managed to scored six runs and end the day with a win. The box score won’t show it, but Addison Russell had two really nice swings of the bat, a deep fly to left and one to center that probably would have gotten out of the park on a nice day in June. Jon Lester, although he did have a shaky moment highlighted below, was awesome today as he pitched 7 innings of one-run ball and struck out 10 Braves.
With two on and none out in the top of the 7th, Erick Aybar laid down a bunt to the right side that Jon Lester fielded but was unable to get out of his glove for a throw to first, loading up the bases with zero outs. We’ve seen Lester’s struggles before, and it’s been hard to watch, but not throwing the ball turned out to work in his favor this time. Instead of possibly airmailing it to first and allowing the Braves to break a 1-1 tie, Lester took a chance and made good on it.
He struck out the next two batters and got Nick Markakis to ground out to end the inning, keeping the game tied and sparing himself from any backlash he was bound to receive for not making that initial throw. What started out pretty bad, and could have turned ugly, actually worked out really well and was indicative of Lester’s greatness.
It’s hard to nitpick in a game you win against a team you are supposed to bead, but there were a few ugly moments in this one. With Fowler on first, Heyward popped up into shallow right center. Fowler was running on the play and didn’t get a good look at the ball, so he was doubled up after Aybar easily fired the ball back to first. You don’t see Fowler make baserunning mistakes often, and in light of the win, it’s something that will be forgiven and forgotten.
The Cubs have two more this weekend against the Braves, after which they will head to Pittsburgh for a big early season test. John Lackey takes the mound against Braves’ righty Julio Teheran, who is 2-0 with a 3.46 ERA in two career starts at Wrigley.