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Braves 5, Cubs 1: Javier Baez leaves game, offense leaves entirely

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The only nice thing about this day was the weather.

Kamil Krzaczynski-USA TODAY Sports

You probably don’t want to hear too many details about the Cubs’ dull 5-1 loss to the Braves; instead, you want to hear about Javier Baez, who left the game after his head hit the knee of Atlanta second baseman Ozzie Albies in the second inning:

Baez was called out; on review the replay crew ruled “call stands,” even though it appeared Javy might have gotten his hand on the base before the tag. Right then it looked like a missed opportunity, because Ian Happ followed that with this:

Had Baez still been on base, the Cubs would have taken a 2-1 lead and maybe we’re talking a different game result. Instead, Happ’s 21st homer tied the contest 1-1, after a pair of hits and a sacrifice fly off Mike Montgomery had put the Braves ahead 1-0 in the first inning.

Baez came out on the field for the top of the third, but after the first play of the inning he motioned toward the dugout and left the game:

Well, that led to all kinds of guessing games. Something in his eye? Concussion? Here’s what we know as of late Sunday afternoon:

The fact that Javy doesn’t have to go through the concussion protocol is good news. Hopefully this turns out to be nothing, as the Cubs really don’t have anyone qualified to play shortstop. Mike Freeman, who was called up Friday from Triple-A Iowa, entered the game and made a couple of plays, made one error which didn’t amount to anything, and struck out twice. The Cubs really, really don’t want to have to see much of Freeman at shortstop, or anywhere else, for that matter.

The 1-1 tie stuck around for another inning, then Montgomery allowed a double and a one-out walk followed by a pair of singles that made it 3-1.

Montgomery didn’t throw too badly, five innings’ worth of four-hit ball, though he walked three. He threw only 64 pitches and was removed only because the Cubs had a chance at a rally in the bottom of the fifth. Jason Heyward was on base with two out when Jay walked and Ben Zobrist singled off pitcher Max Fried. That loaded the bases, but Albert Almora Jr. hit into a force play to end the inning.

Truth be told, the Cubs did hit some baseballs really hard in addition to Happ’s home run. Kris Bryant lined out hard to shortstop to end the first inning and Almora smacked a ball that was snared at second base to end the second. If those balls drop for hits we’re probably talking about a different ending to this game.

Cubs relievers kept the game close until the ninth. Dillon Maples made his big-league debut in the sixth and got a pair of groundouts and a strikeout sandwiched around a walk. Check out the pitch he threw for the K:

His fastball was showing at 97 on the Wrigley pitch-speed meter. Maples clearly has talent and will be in the mix for the 2018 bullpen. Congratulations to him on his perseverance — he nearly quit baseball a year ago — and making it to the big leagues.

Justin Grimm threw a scoreless seventh with a walk and Hector Rondon had a 1-2-3 eighth.

This is why I was surprised to see Felix Pena in the game for the ninth, a game that was still within reach at 3-1. Pena had issued two four-pitch walks Saturday and I can see using him if it’s an inning-eating situation, but this game was still potentially winnable. Instead, Pena got hit hard, giving up hits to the first three batters he faced, scoring two more Atlanta runs and putting this one essentially out of reach.

We were treated to the sight of Tommy La Stella facing the guy he was acquired for, Arodys Vizcaino, in the ninth. TLS flied to right in a 1-2-3 inning that ended the game and the Cubs’ winning streak at six.

This one has to be filed under the “you can’t win ‘em all” category. Pennant races are generally not linear; the Cubs had steadily picked up ground on the second-place Brewers, but lost a game of their lead Sunday afternoon as Milwaukee defeated the Nationals. That cuts the Cubs’ lead down to 3½ games, and at this writing the Cardinals are leading the Giants late in their game in San Francisco, so the Cubs will likely have a game cut off that lead, too.

The weather, as noted, was beautiful, perhaps the nicest day of the entire summer, low 80s, low humidity, sunshine and a gentle breeze. That, as I said, was probably the best thing about this afternoon at the ballpark. One more bit of fun — all three players named “Freeman” on both rosters were briefly in the game at the same time:

Al Yellon

Based on the tweets above, it looks like Javy will be all right and at most, might miss Monday’s game in Pittsburgh, which begins at 3:05 p.m. CT. Or maybe he’ll feel fine early in the morning and can head out and make it there by game time, it’s only about an hour and 15 minute flight. He’ll miss Joe Maddon’s NFL jersey theme trip:

Appropriate for Maddon, as Mike Ditka and Joe Namath are both from western Pennsylvania. And Joe is right about Javy when he says:

And let’s hope the Cubs can continue their winning ways over the Pirates, who they just finished sweeping at Wrigley. Monday afternoon’s starters: Jake Arrieta for the Cubs and Chad Kuhl for the Pirates.