As the early portion of the season’s second half has unfolded, the Cubs have altered the National League’s playoff picture and begun the surge many have long anticipated they would make. The defending World Series champions captured their sixth straight victory and completed a three-game sweep with Wednesday afternoon’s 8-2 win over the Braves at SunTrust Park.
“We won six in row, and we have this momentum,” Cubs manager Joe Maddon said. “I guess, synonymously, the vibe has been different. The vibe and energy has been great, and I want to see that continue.”
Addison Russell highlighted his four-hit game with a pair of RBI doubles and Mike Montgomery enjoyed the thrill of hitting his first home run while also limiting the Braves to just two hits and one run over six innings. Kris Bryant exited in the first inning with a left pinkie strain suffered while attempting to steal third base. But that was one of few lowlights experienced this week by the Cubs, who are within 2 1/2 games of the first-place Brewers in the NL Central race as they prepare for this weekend’s home series against the Cardinals.
“I knew the last couple of outings that, mechanically, my timing has been a little bit off,” Montgomery said. “Today, it was trying to slow things down a little bit and getting back to commanding the ball. I think the last couple of days working in the bullpen really helped.”
R.A. Dickey surrendered solo shots to Montgomery and Tommy La Stella en route to allowing four earned runs over seven innings. The knuckleballer had gone 37 consecutive innings without allowing a homer, and he entered this outing having allowed just three runs over his past 27 innings at home. His performance added to the frustration felt this week by the Braves, who had entered this series in the thick of the NL Wild Card race and feeling good about having just swept the D-backs.
“You know [the Cubs] are a team that’s not going to stay dormant all year,” Braves manager Brian Snitker said. “They’re too good. They were on a good run, just like we had been. It’s just one of those series where we’ve got to regroup and get after them tomorrow.”
Montgomery kept the Braves hitless until Danny Santana doubled with one out in the fifth and scoreless until Ender Inciarte opened the bottom of the sixth with his eighth homer. But the Cubs southpaw’s fondest memory of this game will come courtesy of the two-out, fifth-inning homer he hit into the second deck of the Chop House restaurant located in right field. The home run traveled a projected 393 feet per Statcast™.
“That’s the first time in my career a pitcher has swung at a 2-0 pitch with nobody on after the first [batters] got out on three pitches,” Dickey said. “Normally, the pitcher is going to take, especially when he doesn’t have a hit all year. He ambushed me there, and I’ve got to tip my hat. I laid it in there, thinking he wasn’t going to swing, and he put a good swing on it.”
After exiting in the fifth inning because he was feeling ill and dehydrated, Freddie Freeman was replaced by Matt Adams, who notched one of the three singles Koji Uehara allowed before exiting in the eighth with the bases loaded. Pedro Strop halted a potential Braves rally when he needed just two pitches to get Matt Kemp to ground into an inning-ending double play.
“He has been a linchpin in a lot of really good moments for us, and that is a tough spot to come into, as Kemp has been swinging the bat well,” Maddon said. “I am looking for him to get through Kemp and Flowers right there.”
Mike Foltynewicz will be on the mound when Atlanta opens a four-game series at Dodger Stadium Thursday at 9:10 p.m. CT on MLB.TV. Foltynewicz will be pitching in California for the first time since carrying a no-hitter into the ninth inning of his June 30 start in Oakland.