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Cubs 3, Braves 1: No Clinching For You, Atlanta

The Braves will have to either clinch the division at dinner Saturday evening, or wait and try again Sunday, as the Cubs rose to the occasion with a stirring victory.

Brian Kersey

Well hey there.

This has been such a miserable season for the major-league Cubs that when they play a game like this it really stands out; it might have been the best game all season.

First, they got outstanding starting pitching from Travis Wood, his 24th quality start (for whatever that flawed stat is worth). Seven innings, five hits, one earned run, seven strikeouts. Just for comparison's sake, coming into today there have been 260 starts at least that good in the major leagues this year (minimum 7 IP, five hits or less, one ER, seven K or more). In those 260 starts, those starting pitchers have 194 wins, five losses and 61 no-decisions (26 wins, 35 losses for those 61 games, so overall, an .846 winning percentage in pitcher starts at least that good).

Based on that overwhelmingly one-sided evidence, a start as good as Wood's should result in victory, at the very least, for his team, if not for him as an individual. (It should be noted that Braves starter Kris Medlen nearly matched that effort Saturday; he missed duplicating Wood's numbers by having one fewer strikeout.)

For a while, it looked like the one run the Braves scored off Wood in the fourth inning would win the game. Nate Schierholtz's error on a single by Evan Gattis scored the run, but it wound up being an earned run two batters later, because it would have scored on the walk Wood issued to Dan Uggla.

Meanwhile, the Cubs couldn't do much of anything with Medlen; he allowed just four hits through the first seven innings and just two Cubs -- Starlin Castro after a leadoff single in the first, and Luis Valbuena on a double in the third -- managed to get past first base.

But in the eighth, Castro's one-out single chased Medlen and the Braves' bullpen, which has been outstanding all year, failed Fredi Gonzalez's crew. Scott Downs and David Carpenter gave up three hits in rapid-fire fashion: pinch-single to left by Donnie Murphy, game-tying, run-scoring double down the left-field line by Anthony Rizzo, run-scoring single to right by Dioner Navarro. The final Cubs run in a very satisfying 3-1 Cubs victory was driven in on a sacrifice fly to center by Schierholtz.

Pedro Strop recorded his first Cubs save in his first opportunity by striking out the side in the ninth, going fast, faster and fastest with pitches that registered 97 on the Wrigley pitch-speed meter. Strop and Justin Grimm were warming up in the eighth; Grimm would have come in had the Cubs been trailing, but as soon as the tying run scored, he sat down, so Strop would have entered even if the game had been tied.

Given the Cubs' outstanding rally from behind in the eighth and the meaning of this game to the Braves, who could have clinched the N.L. East with a win, it's the best win of the season, I think. The complaint department is most certainly closed this evening.

For the Cubs, it was just their eighth win in 29 home games since the All-Star break. The Cubs will have to at least split their remaining four home games to avoid losing 50 at home for the first time in franchise history. That, and possibly preventing the Braves from clinching (at this writing, the Marlins and Nationals are in a rain delay), should be good motivation.

The air was fall-like and cool and the crowd was a little bit too celebratory; if I had one discordant note to say about Saturday's game, it was the same thing I'd say about all 3:05 Saturday starts, which is that they lead to too much drunkenness. People start drinking before even coming in, and it isn't always pleasant. I realize the Cubs don't always have a choice of Saturday start times -- they didn't today due to Fox's window being at noon CT and this game not being a Fox selection -- but if they do have choices on Saturdays, 3:05 is not a good idea.

Other than that, though, this one was fun. More of the same, please, for the next four days. Let's at least try to end this season on a positive note.