Bullpen allows 9-run 8th in stunning defeat
Albies, Swanson help build 8-run lead, but Braves unable to put away Cubs
CHICAGO -- Ozzie Albies finished a triple shy of the cycle, Dansby Swanson produced another three-hit game and Sean Newcomb preserved the comfortable early lead he was given. But just as the Braves seemed to be rolling toward another encouraging victory, they watched their bullpen unravel during a nine-run eighth inning that provided the Cubs a 14-10 win at a wet and frigid Wrigley Field on Saturday afternoon.
"It was just a tough day, but I can't point at any one thing," Braves manager Brian Snitker said. "We couldn't get five outs before they got five runs. It was tough to play, tough to field and tough to pitch. Obviously when you get a lead like that, you want to win the game, but as long as you have game left, anything can happen."
Still, while everything might have seemed unusual as the teams played the entirety of the game with the wind chill below 30 degrees, the Braves could not have anticipated what transpired in the eighth inning, when they either hit or walked seven of the 13 batters faced. Three of the five walks were issued with the bases loaded.
Somewhere in the midst of the frustration-filled inning, a five-run advantage evolved into a four-run deficit.
"We scored 10 early, and you still have to play the rest of the game," Snitker said. "To the credit of both teams, there were some really good at-bats. Guys fought their butts off."
The Braves' bullpen entered the game with a Major League-best 1.34 ERA, but their relievers had also issued the third-most walks. The occasional command issues were further highlighted on a day when right-handed reliever Peter Moylan said, "It was effectively like trying to throw a cue ball with wet hands."
After entering with two on and one out in the eighth, Jose Ramirez hit Kristopher Bryant with a pitch to load the bases with two outs for Willson Contreras, who scored Jason Heyward with a dribbler down the third-base line. Benjamin Zobrist then drew a bases-loaded walk ahead of Javier Baez's game-tying, three-run double.
With the game now tied, Ramirez intentionally walked Addison Russell to set up a force play that never materialized. Sam Freeman entered and promptly issued three consecutive walks to Heyward, Kyle Schwarber and Thomas La Stella. The game's final two runs scored after Moylan uncorked a wild pitch.
"It was just another game," Freeman said. "We had to deal with the elements. They had to deal with it, too. Just didn't get the job done today."
The ugly eighth inning erased the value of the early contributions provided by Albies and Swanson, who both notched three-hit performances, and Newcomb, who held steady in tough conditions as he limited the Cubs to three runs (two earned) over 5 1/3 innings. Albies began the game with his second career leadoff homer and combined with Swanson on back-to-back RBI doubles in a three-run second. Both drove in runs during a five-run third that chased Cubs starter Jose Quintana, who allowed seven earned runs in just 2 1/3 innings.
Newcomb surrendered a first-inning home run to Albert Almora Jr., but then settled into a groove as he found himself with a 9-2 lead after the third inning. Albies had never seen snow before last week, but he was not bothered by the fact the wind chill was just 28 degrees when the first pitch was thrown. The Braves' second baseman, who hails from Curacao, added to his Major League-best extra-base hits total (14) with his double in the second inning. He has notched at least two extra-base hits in five of his past eight games.
• Albies begins huge day with leadoff homer
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED
Early support: After Albies and Swanson notched consecutive RBI doubles in the second inning, Kurt Suzuki delivered an RBI single, one of the eight two-out hits the Braves recorded through the first four innings. Eight of the nine runs the Braves tallied through the first three innings scored with two outs.
Adding on: Each of the first five members of the Braves' lineup recorded at least two hits. Nick Markakis made his presence felt when he capped the five-run third inning with a two-run double off Eddie Butler. The add-on runs provided comfort until the Atlanta bullpen unraveled.
Newk's exit: After Almora's homer, Newcomb did not really encounter more trouble until the sixth, when the Cubs loaded the bases on two soft singles and an error charged to Albies, who made a sideways throw after fielding Baez's potential double-play grounder.
"It was a weird inning," Snitker said. "Newcomb got four outs, and he left with the bases loaded, one out and one run in. It was just one of those weird, strange afternoons."
Swanson's third-inning RBI single gave him seven multi-hit performances through his first 13 games. He needed 22 games to notch his first multi-hit performance last year and 58 games to notch his seventh.
HE SAID IT
"He was out there pitching and doing what we needed him to do, which is throw strikes and get our guys off the field. He did a great job in his outing of tilting the time of possession in our favor. He was throwing strikes and doing a great job with that lead." -- Snitker, on Newcomb, a Boston-area native who grew up pitching in cold conditions
Julio Teheran will take the mound when the Braves and Cubs conclude their three-game series Sunday at 2:20 p.m. ET on Jackie Robinson Day. Teheran has been effective in two of this season's first three starts and has a 3.13 road ERA since the start of 2017. Teheran will duel with Cubs starter Tyler Chatwood.