The Atlanta Braves, who came into Wrigley Field with the best record in baseball, are a very good team.
But you know what? So are the Chicago Cubs. After a blowout loss Friday, the Cubs played solid baseball in every way for two days (in the rain, too) and took this series from Atlanta with a 6-4 win Sunday afternoon.
The first two innings went by scoreless, with some help from Justin Steele getting out of a jam in the first with this strikeout [VIDEO].
Then the Braves put two on the board in the second on a two-run homer by Matt Olson, his 39th. He’s got a shot at 50 — and the only player in the entire history of the Braves franchise to hit 50 home runs in a season is Andruw Jones, who had 51 in 2005. Nope, not even Henry Aaron — his season high was 47. Olson’s homer went 453 feet and nearly cleared the right-field bleachers.
Anyway, the Cubs got those runs right back in the bottom of the second. With one out, Miguel Amaya walked and went to second on a single by Mike Tauchman. Nico Hoerner was hit by a pitch to load the bases and this double play relay beaten out by Ian Happ made it 2-1 [VIDEO].
Cody Bellinger walked to re-load the bases and then Charlie Morton walked Dansby Swanson to tie the game [VIDEO].
In the fourth, Bellinger showed off some Gold Glove defense. Orlando Arcia had walked with one out and then Kevin Pillar flied to Bellinger. Take it away, Cody! [VIDEO]
That’s a catch we have seen Bellinger make many times on a run like that. Don’t know what Arcia was thinking, straying so far from first, but it was an easy double play to end the inning.
The Braves took a 3-2 lead in the fifth on an RBI single by Olson after Nick Madrigal had made a throwing error to extend the inning. Earlier in that inning, though, Tauchman made this terrific throw to cut down Ronald Acuña Jr. trying to score [VIDEO].
The Cubs got that run back, and more, in the bottom of the inning. Tauchman led off with a single and stole second. He then went to third on an infield out by Hoerner.
Bellinger then doubled to give the Cubs the lead for the first time in the game [VIDEO].
And the Cubs weren’t done scoring. Swanson was thrown out on a nice play by Arcia, but Jeimer Candelario followed with an RBI single to make it 5-3 [VIDEO].
Candelario reached base three times again in this game, with two walks in addition to the hit. This might turn out to be one of the best deadline deals the Cubs have made in a long time.
Steele got in trouble in the sixth, loading the bases with one out, and so Michael Fulmer was summoned. He hit Acuña with a pitch, making it 5-4 Cubs, but then struck out the next two hitters to end the inning. Here’s his K of Austin Riley that finished the sixth [VIDEO].
Jose Cuas entered to throw the seventh, a pretty high-leverage situation. He allowed a two-out single but finished things up with a strikeout of Arcia. If Cuas — who has thrown very well since he arrived — can pitch well in these situations, that’s a great addition to a bullpen that could use some help. And, it could be another really good deadline trade for Jed Hoyer & Co.
The Cubs scored an important insurance run in the seventh. Bellinger singled with one out and stole second.
Mark Leiter Jr. threw a 1-2-3 eighth, retiring the Braves in that inning on only seven pitches.
And then it was left to Adbert Alzolay to finish things off. He allowed a leadoff double, but then struck out Riley, got the tough Olson to pop up to short left and here’s the final out [VIDEO].
That was just a very good baseball game and of course, we all loved the result. It showed that the Cubs could raise their game and play right there with the best team in baseball. Taking two of three from the Braves is a statement that this Cubs team is going to be right there, all the way down the stretch.
The win, combined with losses by the Reds and Marlins, put the Cubs into the third wild-card spot, virtually tied with the Reds but a fraction of a percentage point ahead (the Cubs are .5178 and the Reds .5175). And, with the Brewers also losing Sunday, the Cubs moved into second place in the N.L. Central (also that fraction ahead of the Reds) and just 1½ games behind Milwaukee. They took five of seven on the homestand and since losing the first game of a series to the Nationals at Wrigley last month are 15-4, the best record in MLB over that span. They’re also 32-18 since they were swept in June in Anaheim, tied for the second-best record in MLB since June 8 with the Orioles (and only 1½ games behind the Braves’ MLB-best 32-15 since that date).
Does this team still have flaws? Sure it does, but so do a lot of the other teams they are competing with for a playoff spot. The important thing is that the Cubs are playing with confidence and excellent situational hitting, drawing walks and playing good defense. Credit, too, to David Ross for having these guys play hard every single day. They’ll be in it to the end, and ... yeah, I’m excited. You?
The Cubs head to New York for a three-game series against the Mets which begins Monday evening. Drew Smyly will start for the Cubs and Kodai Senga will go for the Mets. Game time Monday is 6:10 p.m. CT and TV coverage will be via Marquee Sports Network