After wrapping up a 10-game homestand with a 7-3 record, the Braves set their sights on Chicago and a four-game set with the Cubs, looking to avenge a series loss that happened the previous weekend.
Jair Jurrjens took the mound, looking to keep the Braves rolling, while Ryan Dempster looked to give the Cubs their third win against Atlanta in what has been a disappointing season in Chicago’s North Side.
While Jurrjens shut the Cubs down over 6 1/3 innings, Freddie Freeman and Dan Uggla powered the Atlanta offense with two solo homers, leading the Braves to a 3-0 win.
Even as Jurrjens gave up 8 hits and 5 walks, the Cubs stranded 15 runners and were 2-for-14 with runners in scoring position, but not one crossed the plate. After making way for Arodys Vizcaino in the 6th, the young flamethrower, along with Eric O’Flaherty and Jonny Venters closed the game out, sealing Jurrjens 13th win as Venters earned his 5th save of the year.
With Jose Constanza tweaking his ankle in the late innings of Monday’s game, Jason Heyward got the start in right, as Mike Minor took the mound against Casey Coleman of the Cubs.
After Coleman loaded the bases before walking Alex Gonzalez to plate the first Braves run of the night, Heyward came up huge, clearing the bases with the first grand slam of his young career, giving the Braves a 5-0 lead.
But Minor became somewhat complacent in the bottom of the 5th, almost allowing the Cubs to tie the game, as they put up a 4-spot in the frame before the young lefty stopped the bleeding himself.
Minor’s day was done after 5, giving up the 4 runs (3 earned) on 6 hits while fanning 6 before watching the bullpen lock down his 4th win of the year, as Craig Kimbrel tied the rookie record for saves in a season at 40. The mark was previously set last season by former Braves prospect Neftali Feliz, now with the Texas Rangers.
With a six-game winning streak, Derek Lowe looked to make it 7 straight, as the Cubs sent Randy Wells to the mound.
But Lowe quickly found himself in a hole, watching the Cubs scored three runs in the bottom of the 2nd and his offense unable to mount much against Wells until the later innings.
Even with Chipper Jones and Alex Gonzalez providing solo home runs in the 7th and 8th innings to make the game interesting, the Cubs bullpen did not falter in the 9th, as Carlos Marmol locked down the final frame for Chicago and the 3-2 win.
It was a surprise for many to see Lowe go as deep as he did, throwing 7 innings while giving up the 3 runs on 4 hits, striking out 6 and walking 4 as he watched his loss total go up to 12.
But the bigger surprise was Wells, who kept the Braves guessing all night, allowing 2 hits over 6 2/3 innings while striking out 6. Gonzalez’s homer came off Kerry Wood, now found at the back end of Chicago’s bullpen.
With the finale Thursday, the Braves had the chance to take the season series from the Cubs, as well as continue to distance themselves in the NL Wild Card.
The Braves struck quickly, as Brian McCann put Atlanta in front with a three-run homer in the bottom of the first before starter Brandon Beachy allowed the Cubs to come back and tie the game in the bottom of the second.
But Cubs starter Matt Garza imploded in the 3rd, walking McCann to load the bases before walking Uggla to plate the 4th (and deciding run of the game). He got out of the inning, but not before Freeman singled to give the Braves their 5th run.
The Braves added three more runs, a run-scoring sacrifice fly off the bat of Heyward in the 5th, a solo shot from McCann in the 7th and an RBI-single from Michael Bourn in the 8th, giving the Braves an 8-3 win and wrapping up the series taking three of four from the Cubs.
With the Cubs in their rear view mirror, the Braves now set their sights on New York, where they open up a three-game set with the Mets, with the increasing possibility that Sunday’s finale may be postponed due to Hurricane Irene.
At the conclusion of the series in Chicago, the Braves held a 9 1/2 game lead in the Wild Card over the Giants and were 6 games behind the division-leading Phillies.
The Braves send Tim Hudson, Jair Jurrjens and (possibly) Mike Minor to the mound, while the Mets counter with Chris Capuano, R.A. Dickey and Dillon Gee