For the second straight series, the Cubs split with a National League East team in a series that featured frustrating losses bookended by wins. This series, however, featured decidedly tougher competition in the first place Atlanta Braves, who came in as one of the hottest teams in baseball.
With that in mind, a split here feels less disappointing than the one against New York. The Mets are a team you feel like the Cubs should beat. The Braves are not so much a pushover, even at home, and you can feel fortunate to get away with a split after the way Thursday’s finale started out.
While the middle games of the series were among the more maddening losses the Cubs have experienced lately, the opening and closing games were fun enough that you can almost look past them.
Monday featured both a five-run win and a wildly entertaining benches-clearing spat. Thursday’s was even better, as the Cubs were able to mount one of their better comebacks of the season, erasing a 6-1 deficit and giving new closer Craig Kimbrel his first shot at a save with his new team.
You’d have loved for the team to take three-of-four, but it was a fun series overall and the Cubs showed a lot of gumption in fighting away a series loss on Thursday. Check out the big moments below…
- Cubs 8, Braves 3 (box score)
- Braves 3, Cubs 2 (box score)
- Braves 5, Cubs 3 (box score)
- Cubs 9, Braves 7 (box score)
In Monday’s opening game, Willson Contreras did everything he could to boost his chances of starting in the All-Star Game for the second consecutive year. And as we found out just a few days later, it worked! Contreras drove in a run and defined the narrative of the game with his 2nd inning solo shot off of Braves starter Julio Teherán.
From there, we got quite a kerfuffle.
The origins of the spat aren’t known for sure, but Braves catcher Tyler Flowers obviously took exception to Contreras looking back to him briefly after hitting his home run. As you’d expect, Cubs Insider is firmly on #TeamWillson.
The second game of the series featured the first career start for rookie Adbert Alzolay. While he faltered at the end of the start, Alzolay was excellent again. He surrendered only a single earned run in 4.2 innings while striking out four.
Alzolay was involved in one of the game’s key plays, though he wasn’t on the mound when it happened. With the bases loaded and just one out, the rookie was at the plate showing bunt. And then…well, this unfolded.
So that’s a threat ended by a double play on a pitch that wasn’t even put into play. It’s not what you want.
Wednesday night’s game was defined mostly by a very frustrating performance by Yu Darvish. The enigmatic righty has mostly failed to build on his success at Dodger Stadium two starts ago and his performance Wednesday left plenty to be desired. The Braves scored on a 1st inning wild pitch and it was basically all downhill from there despite the Cubs attempting to mount a mini comeback in the middle innings.
The final game of this series, like the final game of the past series against the Mets, featured the Cubs erasing a seemingly insurmountable deficit to salvage a split. In this case, the Cubs were able to slow the momentum of an increasingly pessimistic narrative stemming from losses and give their fans the satisfaction of a thrilling win.
In a game that featured a lot of Cubs offense, no single moment stands out more than Victor Caratini’s 5th inning, go-ahead home run. The Cubs had tied the game earlier in the inning on the strength of an Anthony Rizzo RBI double and a Jason Heyward RBI triple before Caratini put the Cubs ahead.
That two-run shot gave the Cubs an 8-6 lead that would stand up behind a newly revamped Cubs bullpen. Speaking of that bullpen, it had a new member today. Activated earlier in the day, Kimbrel came in to pitch the 9th.
It wasn’t without drama, but he got his save and the Cubs got a much needed win.
- Jon Lester got back on the right track Monday night, pitching six innings without giving up an earned run. Lester, who struck out seven and walked none, had been scuffling coming into the game so we can only hope he is emerging from the other side of a rough patch.
- The Cubs bullpen gets a spot here just because of their performance on Thursday. On a day where nether team could stop scoring, the ‘pen came in and largely held the Braves in check, giving up only a run in four innings. The presence of Kimbrel had a significant impact right away, as the Cubs were able to roll with four relievers that they trust starting in the 6th inning.
- Contreras, the starting catcher for the NL All-Star team, smacked two home runs in this series and they both mattered. He is hitting .400/.464/1.040 over his last seven and has quietly been the Cubs best hitter by OPS.
- Darvish has not been able to build on the success of his ultra-encouraging start at Dodger Stadium two weeks ago. He got roughed up in his start against Atlanta and over his last two starts, he’s given up nine runs in 11 innings pitched. If you’re looking for silver linings, and it seems we often are with Darvish, his walk numbers have still been consistently better than what we saw earlier in the year.
- Mike Montgomery will always have a special place in the hearts of Cubs fans for his heroics in the 2016 World Series, but he has not been particularly reliable this season and had a difficult time in his only appearance of the series. Over his last seven innings, his 3.68 ERA masks an ugly 1.77 WHIP and some hard contact.
We’re just about at the halfway point of the season and despite a lot of consternation and hand-wringing, the Cubs find themselves atop the NL Central. They weren’t able to build on their lead with their win on Thursday, as the Brewers continued to play copycat and won their game as well.
If the Cubs hold onto their division lead, the Braves appear overwhelmingly likely to be their opponent in the NLDS. Losing the season series five games to two isn’t exactly inspiring, but I think it’s also fair to point out that the Braves caught the Cubs at their worst in the first series in Atlanta.
The Braves look to be one of the strongest teams in the league and they can certainly gave the Cubs a run for their money. Here’s hoping the Cubs get another shot at them in October.