Cubs come out swinging to fend off Braves
David Banks - USA Today Sports

Cubs come out swinging to fend off Braves

by - Senior Writer -

CHICAGO - Coming off one of their worst losses since the All-Star Break, the Chicago Cubs (57-54) looked to get back on track and win for the 12th time in 15 games. It didn't come easy, as nothing comes easy against this Atlanta Braves (70-38) squad, but the Cubs treated the Wrigley Field faithful to another great ball game Saturday afternoon.

With Marcus Stroman on the IL and Hayden Wesneski unavailable, David Ross had his hands tied as he had to figure out how to get 27 outs. Going with Javier Assad to start things off was a start, but with him on a pitch count, no one knew what to expect from the right-hander. Up against Bryce Elder, Assad held his own as he gave the Cubs 3 2/3 very good innings and kept the Braves bats in check.

Assad was backed by an offense that erupted for five runs in the first inning off Elder, who pitched into the fifth before being yanked. Elder allowed seven runs, with five coming as earned runs, as the short-handed Cubs bullpen did what they had to do to fend off the Braves 8-6 to even things up.

Assad overcame a leadoff single from Ronald Acuna Jr to start the game as he continues to build his MVP case with three more hits. Once the bottom of the first rolled around, the Cubs came out swinging, but patience paid off early, with Mike Tauchman and Nico Hoerner starting things off with a walk.

With both of those runners moving into scoring position, Matt Olson had the big play in that inning, as his error not only allowed two runs to score but opened up the floodgates for a big inning. That error was followed by a two-run shot from Dansby Swanson as the Cubs opened up the 4-0 lead. Jeimer Candelario would get in on the fun before the inning was over as he connected for his first Cubs homer since 2017 and the second of his career to make things 5-0.

Typically a five-run lead would be enough to win a game even with a reliever getting the start, but this is the Atlanta Braves we are talking about, and no lead is safe against them. With Sean Murphy and Marcell Ozuna leading the second inning off with a pair of singles, the Braves were in business as Orlando Arcia used a sacrifice fly to make things 5-1.

One inning later, an Ozzie Albies homer pulled the Braves within 5-2, and you started to sense that uneasy feeling creep in. Albies has dominated the Cubs across his career, as he has the highest OPS against any team against this Cubs team. The relentless Braves offense kept the pressure on in the fourth as Assad walked Eddie Rosario with two outs before the Arcia double put a pair of runners in scoring position.

That was the end of the road for Assad as David Ross went to Michael Fulmer, who got out of the inning. Sensing the Braves were gaining momentum, Candelario opened the bottom of the fourth up with a leadoff double as the Cubs had a runner in scoring position. The Candy Man would eventually come around to score on the Nick Madrigal single to extend the lead to 6-2.

Still on the mound in the fifth, Elder didn't do himself any favors early on as he walked Cody Bellinger to lead things off before he advanced to second. That extra 90 feet proved costly as Christopher Morel came through with another clutch RBI hit to push the Cubs lead back to five at 7-2.

Knowing that his team was down a few arms in the pen, Ross had to figure out how to get the outs needed to win this game as Daniel Palencia was on to pitch the sixth. Since getting called up from Iowa, Palencia has been very good for the Cubs, but this was not one of those days, as Palencia walked the bases loaded before getting yanked in favor of Mark Leiter Jr.

Thrown into a tough spot, Leiter Jr would allow a Michael Harris sacrifice fly and an Acuna single, but things could have been much worse as he got Austin Riley to strike out and put an end to the inning. That was the momentum shift the Cubs needed as Julian Merryweather came on to pitch a pair of scoreless frames while an Ian Happ homer off of AJ Minter led things off in the bottom of the seventh as the Cubs extended their lead to 8-4.

Despite this being a four-run lead, Ross knows how dangerous this offense can be, so he went with his best in Adbert Alzolay to pick up the game's final three outs. Alzolay saw Albies narrowly miss a homer to lead things off while Riley smoked a screamer past Madrigal at third to put a runner on base.

That single was followed by an incredible at-bat from Matt Olson, resulting in a two-run shot over the CF basket to put Atlanta within 8-6. This was the worst-case scenario for Alzolay, as the Cubs were hoping to get through the ninth drama free. Alzolay did a great job recovering from that homer as he responded with a pair of groundouts to end the game and gave the Cubs a huge bounce-back win and a chance to take the series tomorrow.

Each team had 10 hits in the game as Cody Bellinger, Candelario, and Madrigal led the way with two hits. Swanson added two RBIs once again, but Hoerner and Yan Gomes went hitless in the loss. The Cubs will look to finish off their homestand 5-2 and pick up a series win against the Braves on Sunday as they send Justin Steele to the mound to face Charlier Morton. Steele is tied for the major league lead in wins as he continues to put together a great season.

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