The Cubs hosted Atlanta Monday afternoon, making up the April 15 rain out on Jackie Robinson day. Despite the postponement both teams celebrated Jackie, wearing #42 in his honor. In odd fashion this was a one-off, finalizing the April series at Wrigley before both teams travel to Atlanta for a three game set beginning tomorrow. Cubs historian Ed Hartig noted this is the first time the Cubs played back-to-back games at opposing stadiums against the same team since April of 1990 against the Mets.
With the wind blowing out a high scoring affair was to be expected, and the game played out in classic Wrigley Field fashion. Atlanta and Chicago entered today featuring the two best run scoring differentials in baseball, at +56 and +54 respectively. With the weather conditions ripe for home runs, neither team disappointed.
In beautiful symmetry the game also featured starters Jose Quintana and Julio Teheran, who share the most wins for Colombian-born pitchers in MLB’s rich history. At 61 wins apiece entering Monday afternoon’s contest, their careers have mirrored each other: ERA’s in the 3.5 range with moderate K% rates and above average BB% rates, both pitchers flirting with top-of-rotation status while maintaining inconsistent results throughout their careers.
Ozzie Albies led off the first with a solo homerun, immediately signifying the effects of the wind. A high fly ball to right, the ball would ordinarily be caught if the wind were blowing in (or nonexistent). Instead, it was just a primer of things to come. Quintana labored through the inning after the solo shot, ultimately walking three batters and throwing 33 pitches while limiting the damage to just one run.
The top of the second featured uncharacteristic defensive miscues. A weak chopper between Q and Anthony Rizzo was fielded by Quintana, and his glove-flip to Rizzo was on time — but Anthony missed the bag. Teheran followed with a sac bunt attempt, and an errant throw to second by Kris Bryant created a nightmare two on, no outs scenario. A routine double play ball was then bobbled by Javier Baez, who was able to recover and get the out at second, giving the Braves runners on first and third with just one out. Q somehow escaped however, the highlight being a brilliant inside fastball to Ronald Acuna on a 2-2 count.
The Cubs answered back in the bottom half of the second. Kyle Schwarber worked a walk on a tough at-bat with two outs before Albert Almora crushed a ball into the left field bleachers, giving the Cubs a 2-1 lead. Short lived that lead was, however, as Q’s former South Side battery mate Tyler Flowers crushed a two-run shot in the third, allowing Atlanta to reclaim the lead at 3-2.
From there the home runs continued. After a Tommy La Stella single off the glove of Freddie Freeman in the third inning Kris Bryant unloaded to left, giving the Cubs a 4-3 lead. The Braves answered back emphatically in the fifth, however, when Jose Bautista hit a three run bomb. A 6-4 score effectively chased Quintana, producing an ugly final line of 4 2/3 IP, 9 H, 6 ER, 3 BB, 6 K.
The Cubs threatened in the sixth against Teheran, until two-time gold glover Ender Inciarte made a brilliant catch in right center, robbing Javier Baez of a hit and doubling off Ben Zobrist at first. That play signified a change in the game, where singles and walks precipitating home runs turned to both bullpens dominating hitters.
Trailing 6-4, the Cubs created drama in the bottom half of the ninth. A Victor Caratini single with one out started a rally for the Cubs, and after a Schwarber walk and broken bat bloop single by Almora, the bases were loaded. Joe Maddon then dipped into his bench, sending David Bote to the plate. Bote battled before striking out against lefty A.J. Minter.
With the bases still loaded and two outs, Maddon sent Ian Happ to the plate in relief of La Stella, a righty option against the hard throwing lefty. After two quick strikes, Happ was hit by a pitch, pushing the score to 6-5 — and sending Bryant to the plate. Bryant battled before flying out to left, ending the game in unceremonious fashion.
Although every run scored came against both starters via the home run ball, both bullpens performed beautifully, giving up no runs in relief. A quintet of Cubs relievers failed to give up a hit in 4 2/3 innings of work, keeping the score tight with the hopes of a ninth inning rally. For Atlanta’s part, the bullpen shut the door (with the exception of the one run in the ninth) after six hard fought innings by Teheran.
With the Braves hitting a terrible 1/14 with RISP and striking out nine times (to just two for the Cubs) this was a tough loss to stomach. Still in fourth place — yet just one game back of first — the Cubs will look to regroup on the flight to Atlanta.
The Cubs will follow the Braves back to Atlanta for a three game series beginning tomorrow. Yu Darvish will return from his brief DL stint, facing righty Mike Foltynewicz. A 6:35 CST start, you can catch the game on TV at NBC Sports or on the radio at 670 The Score.
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Feature Photo Credit: Chicago Cubs