ATLANTA -- 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. Kristopher 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 1 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 Thomas 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."
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED
Helping himself: 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."
Strop stops a threat: 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."
"The first homer was pretty exciting, as I have a bunch of family here. To do it in front of them is a lot of fun. ... He fell behind 2-0, and I thought about taking to get back in the count, and then I decided I was just going to swing. He put it right [in] the only place I could hit it." -- Montgomery, on his first home run
"We had a bunch of opportunities throughout the series. We've just got to do a better job of cashing in and scraping across one [run] here and there. We had a lot of opportunities to put some crooked numbers up there and weren't able to come through." -- Braves catcher Tyler Flowers, who homered off Justin Grimm to begin the bottom of the seventh
SOUND SMART WITH YOUR FRIENDS
• Baez's three-run homer run off Jose Ramirez in the eighth inning traveled a projected 436 feet and had a 104.7 mph exit velocity. This was the second longest home run hit by a right-handed hitter at SunTrust Park. Brandon Phillips hit one that traveled a projected 447 feet on April 15.
• Dickey logged his 2,000th career inning in the game, becoming the 26th pitcher since 2001 to accomplish the feat.
The Braves challenged a hit-by-pitch call in the third inning, as infielder Sean Rodriguez wasn't awarded first base after appearing to be hit by Montgomery. Replay showed Rodriguez was indeed hit in the left leg, and the ruling was overturned.
The Braves issued a second challenge, in the fourth inning, as Kemp beat out a ground ball at first base. The call stood on the field as the review deemed Kemp out at the bag.
The Cubs were unsuccessful in their lone replay challenge. In the fourth inning, they challenged whether outfielder Ian Happ had swiped a steal at second base. The replay confirmed that Happ was tagged out before his foot slid into the bag.
Cubs: The Cubs are off on Thursday before returning to Wrigley Field for a three-game set with rival St.Louis on Friday at 1:20 p.m. CT on MLB.TV. Jacob Arrieta takes the mound sporting a 4.01 ERA in six home starts.
Braves:Mike Foltynewicz will be on the mound when Atlanta opens a four-game series at Dodger Stadium Thursday at 10:10 p.m. ET 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.
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