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Cubs 5, Braves 1: John Lackey, home runs power 5th straight win

The Cubs had everything working right and kept their winning streak going.

Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

The Braves don’t play on the West Coast, but they might as well have after the first two games of this series were rain-delayed, the first by a threat of rain that never materialized, the second by a small but persistent rainstorm that simply refused to leave the area around SunTrust Park for more than two hours after game time.

Thus the Cubs’ 5-1 win over the Braves, their fifth in a row, tying a season high, ended after midnight Chicago time. Teams pushing to wait out delays and play baseball in situations like this rather than lose a gate and play a single-admission doubleheader (which was the likely scenario for a rainout Tuesday) force things like starting at 10:05 p.m. local time when the clubs have a 12:10 p.m. local time start today. It was the 11th game that had been delayed by rain at the Braves’ new stadium. They’ve had one postponement. Comparison point: the Cubs, despite awful weather in Chicago much of the spring, also have had one postponement (the “rainless rainout” the Brewers complained so much about) and just four other games that were rain-delayed.

Anyway, the Cubs took advantage of these less-than-ideal conditions by playing yet another solid game in every aspect. If you didn’t stay up late for this one — and it ended after 1 a.m. Eastern time — here are all the details.

John Lackey, returning from the DL with a very good outing? Check.

Timely hitting and home runs? Check.

Excellent relief pitching? Check.

Lackey made one mistake, serving up a home run to Nick Markakis in the second inning that gave the Braves a 1-0 lead. Otherwise Lackey allowed just four other hits and two walks over five very good innings. About the only complaint I could make was that his pitch count was a bit high at 86, but his batting-order spot came up in the sixth inning so it was logical for him to be removed anyway, especially coming off a DL stint. Nice work by Lackey. Also, this is good:

The Cubs let the Braves have the lead for about five minutes before Javier Baez led off the third inning:

Javy’s 11th of the year tied the game 1-1. After Lackey struck out, Ben Zobrist and Kris Bryant walked. Anthony Rizzo’s groundout advanced both runners and Willson Contreras cleared the bases:

Contreras’ three-run blast was his 13th of the year, and:

Looks like the Cubs might have found just the right guy to hit behind Bryant and Rizzo. The 13 homers ties Contreras for third place among all MLB catchers with Austin Hedges and Mike Zunino. Gary Sanchez has 14 and Salvador Perez leads with 18. And Contreras’ homer went a long way:

After Lackey was removed, it was up to the Cubs’ bullpen and they did excellent work. Brian Duensing, Pedro Strop, Carl Edwards Jr. and Hector Rondon threw four scoreless innings, allowing two singles and a walk and striking out six. CJ struggled a bit, throwing 26 pitches in his frame, but did strike out the side. It was also good to see Hector have a strong outing. He has not allowed an earned run (though has given up one unearned run) over his last seven outings covering eight innings, and in that time has allowed five hits and two walks (0.875 WHIP) and struck out 11. Having Rondon back to solid relief work would really bolster the Cubs’ setup corps behind Wade Davis.

The Cubs’ final run scored in the sixth when Albert Almora Jr., Jason Heyward and Baez singled, loading the bases. After Jay struck out batting for Lackey, Zobrist’s groundout scored Almora.

The 2017 Cubs have now accomplished something their 2016 counterparts never did: win five consecutive road games. And with the Brewers losing again to the Pirates Tuesday night, the Cubs cut yet another game off Milwaukee’s lead in the N.L. Central and now trail by 2½ games (and just one in the loss column).

The last time a Cubs team swept an entire road trip of six games or more was in 2015, when the 97-win Cubs won all six games of a season-ending road trip to Cincinnati and Milwaukee. If the Cubs can complete the sweep of the Braves here, that would actually be a lot more impressive. Mike Montgomery — who I hope the Cubs sent back to the team hotel early to get some rest — will start for the Cubs and R.A. Dickey for the Braves.

A reminder that today’s game has an early start — 11:10 a.m. Central time. The game preview will post at 10 a.m. CT.