Jon Lester stymied the Braves and drove in a run, Anthony Rizzo collected three RBIs and Javier Baez belted a three-run homer to lead the Cubs to a sloppy, 13-2 victory on Sunday in Chicago’s final game at Turner Field.
The Cubs are 43-18, 25 games over .500 before they have lost 25 games. This is their best 61-game start since the 1907 Cubs began 47-14.
“I have goals — that was 25 over today,” Cubs manager Joe Maddon said. “If I have any short-term goals, it’s to increase increments of five, and that’s what I focus on more than anything.”
Lester has given up two earned runs over 30 1/3 innings in his last four starts, and he lowered his ERA for the season to 1.89. The lefty shrugged off four errors in the game, and the Cubs have won 10 of his 13 starts this year.
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“You can’t really worry about it — I know guys are not trying to make errors,” Lester said. “My job is to pick them up. They pick me up more times than not with diving plays and unreal stuff they do out there for all of us.”
Rizzo moved past teammate Kris Bryant for second in the National League in RBIs (47) after hitting a one-out RBI double in the first, a one-out RBI single in the seventh and another one-out RBI single in the eighth. Baez’s home run highlighted a six-run eighth.
“[Bryant] sets the pace, then I set the pace,” Rizzo said of the RBI race. “Hopefully, we keep staying with each other all the way.”
Braves rookie John Gant, making his first big league start, took the loss, serving up three runs (two earned) over 4 1/3 innings. Atlanta dropped to 7-25 at Turner Field.
“There’s a reason they’ve won 43 games at this point,” Braves left fielder Jeff Francoeur said. “They’re a great team. We got Friday night’s game, and we knew we were going to have our hands full yesterday and today. We were in this game, and then it just kind of got out of hand.
A pair of one-out walks plagued Gant in the first when he surrendered an RBI double to Rizzo for the first run of the game. But with runners on second and third, the right-hander struck out back-to-back hitters to limit the damage. Gant held his own against the Cubs’ potent lineup over the next two innings, allowing only one hit, before Chicago struck for two runs in the fourth.
“He kept the game manageable, which is the biggest thing,” Braves manager Brian Snitker said. “He didn’t let it get out [of hand]. It was still manageable, and we had enough innings to come back. He did a good job, battled through a lot and did a good job of keeping the game there against one of the best teams in baseball.”
The Cubs had a runner at first with one out in the fourth when Baez hit a grounder to Adonis Garcia at third. Baez was originally called out, but after a review, the call was overturned. David Ross then blooped a single to right and Chris Coghlan scored as Nick Markakis’ relay sailed for an error. Baez scored on Lester’s squeeze, which first baseman Freddie Freeman fielded, but he opted to throw to Chase d’Arnaud covering at first. It was Lester’s second RBI of the season.
The Braves tied the game at 1 in the first after d’Arnaud scored on a double steal and a throwing error by Ross. Freeman, who advanced to third on the play, represented the go-ahead run, but he was stranded after Francoeur struck out and Markakis grounded out to second. Atlanta ultimately finished 1-for-12 with runners in scoring position. Over their past 23 games, the Braves are hitting .168 (32-for-190) in such situations.
This wasn’t the cleanest series defensively. On Saturday, the Cubs were charged with three errors, and on Sunday, they committed four more. Garcia reached on second baseman Ben Zobrist’s first error of the season, a wild throw, which catcher Ross recovered but then threw into center field for another error in the second. Ross also made a throwing error in the first. Garcia did reach third, but he was later caught in a 5-2-6-1 rundown that ended with Lester applying the tag and then tumbling onto the grass. Dexter Fowler was charged with another error in the fourth.
“We were uncharacteristic today,” Maddon said. “We made some mistakes, no question. But at no time did I feel it got to us or dragged us down. We were ready to come back the entire game. A big part of it was because Jon was so good.”
In the fourth, the Cubs had a runner at first with one out when Baez hit a grounder to third baseman Garcia. Baez was called out at first, but after a review, the call was overturned and Baez was credited with an infield hit.
Aaron Blair will take the mound for Atlanta when it opens a four-game home series against the Reds on Monday. The right-hander is 0-3 with a 6.08 ERA in five starts at Turner Field and has made it through the fifth inning just once in his past five outings. First pitch is set for 6:10 p.m. CT and Thunder Radio will bring you the broadcast beginning at 6 PM as part of the Atlanta Braves Radio Network.