ATLANTA -- Though this season's first half did not evolve as well as the Cubs had hoped, their perfect start to the second half has provided indication they could once again have some fun in October. The defending World Series champs matched a season-best five-game winning streak with Tuesday night's
ATLANTA -- Though this season's first half did not evolve as well as the Cubs had hoped, their perfect start to the second half has provided indication they could once again have some fun in October. The defending World Series champs matched a season-best five-game winning streak with Tuesday night's 5-1 win over the Braves at SunTrust Park.
After rain delayed the start of the game for 2 1/2 hours, Javier Baez recorded three hits and teamed with Willson Contreras to homer off Sean Newcomb during a four-run third inning that proved decisive for the Cubs, who now sit just 2 1/2 games behind the first-place Brewers in the National League Central race.
The Braves entered this series just a half-game behind Chicago in the Wild Card race, but with consecutive losses they have fallen into fifth place, eight games behind the second-place Rockies.
"We have guys that have done it before and take pride in what they do," Cubs starter John Lackey said. "We want to do better than what we did in the first half for sure."
Nick Markakis' second-inning leadoff home run accounted for the only damage incurred over five innings by Lackey, who was activated off the disabled list earlier Tuesday and entered having surrendered an NL-high 24 homers. He allowed five hits with one strikeout and two walks, earning his first win since June 18.
The Braves were not able to overcome the fourth-inning struggles endured by Newcomb, who allowed five earned runs over 5 1/3 innings. The rookie southpaw produced a 1.48 ERA as he completed the first four starts of his career in June. But he has been charged with at least four earned runs in each of his first three July starts.
Both starting pitchers had completed their pregame preparations as the tarp was pulled on and off the field twice with the expectation the game was about to begin.
"Waiting around is not the best," Newcomb said. "I was on the [bullpen] mound for about 10 pitches when they pulled the tarp. I think there were two other times I started playing catch and they pulled the tarp again. So, it's hard to get in a groove there, but that's stuff you have to deal with."
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED
Walks kill: Inconsistent command has plagued Newcomb throughout his professional career and did so again in the third inning, when he issued consecutive one-out walks to Benjamin Zobrist and Kristopher Bryant. He did not hit the strike zone with any of the 13 pitches thrown within this sequence of consecutive plate appearances. But he did find too much of the plate with the 1-0 fastball Contreras drilled over the center-field wall for a two-out, three-run homer that gave the Cubs the lead.
"[Contreras] is really turning into a leader," Cubs manager Joe Maddon said. "He was very upset with himself when he hit into that double play his first time up. But he comes back and hits a three-run homer after that. He is definitely turning into a force."
Dominant escape: The Braves made things interesting when they came within one swing of erasing a three-run, ninth-inning deficit against Wade Davis in Monday's series opener. But their bid to spend a second straight night creating late-inning intrigue faded after putting two on with one out in the eighth. C.J. Edwards sandwiched a Freddie Freeman strikeout between Brandon Phillips' leadoff single and a Matt Kemp walk. The right-handed reliever ended the frame with consecutive strikeouts of Matt Adams and Markakis.
"We just couldn't bunch anything together tonight," Braves manager Brian Snitker said. "We had some guys on and couldn't get the big hit."
"I was put in those situations a lot this year and last year. My goal is to let my team work for me. Not really trying to strike them out or do too much." -- Edwards
"It was a while, as I guess we had about four delays. I only threw two and a half [warmup sessions], but the game still counts and you have to go out there and try to get it done."-- Lackey, on waiting through the pregame delay
SOUND SMART WITH YOUR FRIENDS
Braves center fielder Ender Inciarte has gone hitless during this series. This marks just the third time this season he has been held hitless in consecutive games and first time since April 22-23.
Cubs:Mike Montgomery finishes this three-game set against Atlanta on Wednesday at 11:10 a.m. CT. Montgomery is 1-3 with a 5.77 ERA in seven starts this season, but he has given up seven walks in his last 9 2/3 innings.
Braves:R.A. Dickey will take the mound when for Wednesday's 12:10 p.m. ET series finale. Dickey has produced a 1.09 ERA over his past five starts, and he has allowed just three earned runs over his past 27 innings at SunTrust Park.
Watch every out-of-market regular-season game live on MLB.TV.
Mark Bowman has covered the Braves for MLB.com since 2001.
Jaylon Thompson is a reporter for MLB.com based in Atlanta and covered the Cubs on Tuesday.