Cubs come out on top in slugfest with Braves
Three different players hit home runs for the Chicago Cubs in what was a total team effort at the plate on Saturday.

Cubs come out on top in slugfest with Braves

by - Senior Writer -

CHICAGO – Over the past few weeks, the Chicago Cubs have seemed to pour on the runs once every four or five games, and today's high-scoring affair with the Atlanta Braves was a prime example. Taking advantage of a four-run second inning and a five-run fourth inning, the Cubs outlasted the Braves in a 14-12 slugfest. Provided with an early lead on a grand slam by veteran catcher Rene Rivera, the Cubs later added five runs in the fourth frame to take a commanding six-run lead and never looked back, coming out on top in a contest that featured a combined 26 runs and 29 hits.

Making his first start following a stint on the disabled list, Cubs starting pitcher Jon Lester was solid on Saturday, with his only flaws coming via three Braves home runs. Fitting with the theme of the Cubs' season, home runs defined today's game, as the two clubs hit six of them altogether. In fact, five of the six long balls were hit prior to the fifth inning, making the early innings rather exciting.

Lester, who threw a respectable five innings of eight-hit ball in his return to the mound, was let off of the hook despite his three home runs because of the hot-hitting ways of his teammates, beginning with Rivera's first career grand slam in the second inning. The Braves quickly answered in the top of the third by clubbing back-to-back homers to cut the Cubs' lead to one run. Freddie Freeman incited the Braves with a two-run bomb, and left fielder Matt Kemp followed it with a solo shot.

Cubs infielder Javier Baez called Kemp's solo homer and raised it with one of his own in the third, marking his 21st home run of the season. In the fourth, Braves third baseman Rio Ruiz pulled the Braves back to within a run on a round-tripper into the bleachers beyond left-center. The Cubs opened the floodgates in the fourth inning, though, scoring five runs on four hits, including a bases-clearing triple by first baseman Anthony Rizzo that provided him with 100 RBI on the year. Braves starter Lucas Sims was pulled from the game early on in the fourth inning after struggling through three innings, but his replacement, Ian Krol, proved to be no better on the afternoon, as he gave up three hits that saw the Cubs go up 10-4.

Two at-bats after Rizzo's triple, Baez drove home Rizzo with his second RBI of the game on a double to shallow left. After that, Chicago right fielder Jason Heyward, who experienced a highly efficient 2-3 game, in which he accrued two RBI, scored two runs and drew two walks, brought in Baez on a single to left, thus putting the Cubs ahead 10-4.

Thereafter, a scoring drought commenced, with each team struggling to put runners on base and also being victimized via the strikeout multiple times. 16 strikeouts in all took place in Saturday's clash, contrasting with the offensive slant of the game. With that being said, in the sixth, the wild pitch, rather than the walk, was prevalent, with Cubs third baseman Kris Bryant basically scoring because of Braves reliever Luke Jackson's control issues. After being hit a Jackson pitch, Bryant took second on a Jackson wild pitch, thereby enabling him to reach third on a grounder by second baseman Ben Zobrist. Jackson next threw another wild pitch, thus allowing Bryant to score.

Trailing 11-4, the Braves refused to go quietly, scoring eight runs in the final three innings. A three-run seventh placed the Braves back into the thick of things, as right fielder Nick Markakis scored two on a double to deep left, and catcher Kurt Suzuki followed that up with an RBI single to left. A back-and-forth battle featured prominently in the later innings, as Braves outfielder Albert Almora, Jr., made up for the two runs scored by the Braves in the top half of the seventh by bringing in two runs on a single in the bottom half of the seventh.

Using seven relievers in today's contest, including six in the last three innings, the Cubs were definitely not aided by their bullpen en route to earning a hard-fought victory. With the Braves heating up at the plate, Chicago relief pitchers Felix Pena and Carl Edwards, Jr., were taken to task in the eighth, giving up two runs that decreased the Cubs' lead to four. After struggling with walks, Pena was pulled in favor of Edwards, Jr., who then gave up an RBI double to Freeman and an RBI grounder to Kemp.

Former Brave Heyward put the Cubs up by five runs in the bottom of the eighth, as the left-hander hit his ninth home run of the year on a solo moonshot to right that proved to be the sixth and final homer of the game. Yet again, though, the Braves did not lie down and quit, as Atlanta added three runs on four hits in the top of the ninth to provide the Cubs with a scare. After wishy-washy Chicago reliever Brian Duensing faltered early on, closer Wade Davis was brought in with the Cubs leading by four runs. However, Davis was not so great himself, giving up an RBI double to Braves infielder Jace Peterson and ultimately facing off against the dangerous Freeman with a man on and the Cubs up by just two runs. Serving as the potential tying runner, Freeman did not make the Braves' epic comeback attempt come to fruition, as he struck out swinging to end the game.

After all of the madness that the last three innings presented, Lester, who exited after the fifth inning, was credited with the win, moving to 9-7 overall. As for Sims, who was taken out following the third inning, he received the loss to become 2-5. Despite coming up five hits short of the Braves, the Cubs were able to come out on top in the 14-12 battle by making the most of their scoring opportunities, hitting well with runners in scoring position throughout the game.

With Rizzo, who went 2-5 and garnered three RBI on the day, and several other pivotal hitters performing perhaps the best that they have performed all year long at the plate right now, the Cubs (75-60) are on the verge of winning their seventh straight and earning their second consecutive series sweep. Set to take on the Braves (59-75) in the finale of the four-game series at Wrigley Field tomorrow afternoon, the Cubs will be aiming to continue their hot-hitting ways and build upon their growing lead in the National League Central.

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