The Braves may have the opposite record of the Cubs and rank last in the Major Leagues in home runs. Bud Norris may have lost his spot in the rotation earlier this season, but on Friday night at Turner Field, Atlanta out-slugged and out-pitched Chicago.
Adonis Garcia and Tyler Flowers hit back-to-back home runs — the first time the Braves have done so this year — to back Norris and spark a 5-1 victory over the Cubs, picking up their second win in their last eight games.
“It’s big just to get a little lead there and then get a couple of add-on runs, which is something we haven’t been doing,” Braves manager Brian Snitker said. “That was really nice to put together an inning like that and get a couple of add-on runs.”
Cubs rookie Albert Almora Jr. made a nice sliding catch of Nick Markakis’ fly ball to left to open the second inning before Garcia launched the next pitch from Jason Hammel over the center-field wall. Four pitches later, Flowers hit his third homer to left to open a 2-0 lead. Garcia finished with three hits, matching a career high.
Norris, making his second start since returning to the rotation last Saturday, struck out six and limited the Cubs to four hits and one run over seven innings. It was his longest outing since he went seven frames in his first start of the season on April 6.
The loss was the Cubs’ fourth in their last 16 games.
“That’s baseball — baseball’s a crazy game,” Hammel said. “On any given night, any team can win. A lot of people say you’re only as good as the starting pitcher on the mound that night, and he was better.”
Cubs manager Joe Maddon started the rookie Almora over Chris Coghlan in left field because he liked the matchup. Almora proved him right when he doubled to open the third, moved up on a wild pitch and scored one out later on Dexter Fowler’s groundout. Almora also made two standout catches, robbing Markakis to open the second and again with two on and one out in the seventh.
“He’s a quality addition,” Hammel said of Almora. “We pride ourselves on the guys we have at the lower levels. They’re going to come up here and help us. Albert is no different. He came up and made an impact right away. He’s a player to watch play.”
In addition to his three-hit effort, Garcia made a pair of standout defensive plays in the fifth inning. The third baseman, who committed seven errors at the position in his first 18 games of the season, recorded the first out of the frame when he caught a sharp line drive hit directly at him by Javier Baez. A batter later, Garcia robbed Addison Russell of a base hit when he made a diving grab to his left and completed the throw to first from his knees.
Hammel had given up three combined earned runs over his last three outings, but he was charged with three on Friday. The right-hander cruised through an 11-pitch first, but then had some stressful innings as the Braves had at least two runners on over the next three. He was able to extend a streak to 14 games in which Cubs starting pitchers have given up three earned runs or less.
“Save for two pitches, I thought I battled pretty well,” Hammel said. “I felt everything I threw up there. The bad pitches got hit hard and the good pitches were dribblers somewhere. It was just one of those nights. Bud threw a really good game and kept our guys off-balance. He threw a really good slider and stuck with it. Hats off to him.”
The Cubs threatened to strike first in the second after Norris allowed back-to-back singles to open the inning. The right-hander settled in, though, and induced a ground-ball double play before striking out Russell with a 95-mph fastball to thwart the scoring chance.
Mallex Smith was called out in the bottom of the fourth inning after failing to re-touch second base on a sacrifice fly by Ender Inciarte. Smith rounded second as the ball carried into left field, and after Almora made the catch, Smith stepped over the bag on his way back to first. The Cubs appealed the play, and Smith was called out for the final out.
“I don’t think I’ve ever seen that before,” Maddon said. “Almora got the ball in quickly right to [second baseman Ben Zobrist], and Zo walked in and stepped on the bag and didn’t think about it, but did. I’m watching to see if the runner crosses or not. I went out after the appeal [to see] if Zo stepped on the bag first. Could they have called him out for that first and not the appeal? But that’s not part of the rule. You must appeal and say, ‘I’m appealing the play at second base,’ and then he’s out.”
Maddon had another conversation with third-base umpire Jerry Meals in the sixth inning, trying to get clarification.
Jake Arrieta will try to start a new winning streak on Saturday. Arrieta struck out 12 over five innings in his last outing, but he took his first loss since July 25 of last season. He is 2-1 with a 2.81 ERA in four career starts vs. the Braves. First pitch will be at 3:10 p.m. CT. Atlanta will counter with Matt Wisler, who looks to bounce back from his worst start of the season. In just four innings, the right-hander allowed eight earned runs against the Dodgers on Sunday, struggling to throw his secondary pitches. He’s 0-4 with a 4.12 ERA at Turner Field this year. Thunder Radio will bring you the broadcast of the game a part of the Atlanta Braves Radio Network.