The Principality

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Braves Miss Opportunity For Winning Record

Having gone 21-13 from the past 34 games, the Atlanta Braves had managed to claw their way back to an even record following their weekend series sweep of the Diamondbacks.  Buoyed by their recent performances, the Braves were hoping to achieve a winning record for the first time since 1st June 2015.  However, they will have to wait a little longer for that, after dropping the first game of a three game set to the Chicago Cubs 4-3.

Both teams were undefeated coming out of the All-Star break, with the Cubs having swept their series with Baltimore over the weekend. With each team having an eye on a postseason berth, this series was greatly anticipated and promised to be hotly contested.

The Braves sent Julio Teheran to the mound, with Jon Lester starting for the World Champs.  Teheran's struggles at SunTrust Park have been well documented, with the 2-time All-Star posting a 7.58 ERA and 1-6 record at home during the season's first half.  However Teheran looked like a different pitcher tonight.  With his entire repertoire of pitchers working for him, Teheran held the Cubs to 2 earned runs on 5 hits in 6 innings.  Chicago had no answer for him through the first four innings, but broke through in the top of the fifth.  Teheran began by walking former Brave, Jason Heyward and surrendered a hit to Javier Baez.  A wild pitch then saw both runners move into scoring position and Ben Zobrist bring them in to score with a base hit of his own.

"One mistake right there, walking the leadoff hitter cost me two runs, but overall, I think I did pretty good" said Teheran, who had allowed four earned runs or more in five of the previous nine starts he had made .

Unfortunately for Teheran, the Braves could find no answer to Lester, who had given up 10 runs in one inning in his previous start, the shortest of his career.  A Brandon Phillips RBI single in the third was all the run production they could manage against the veteran left hander though.  Lester stuck around to frustrate the Braves for seven innings, by which point the Cubs had added a couple of insurance runs off the Braves bullpen. Anthony Rizzo notched his 23rd home run of the season in the seventh, before Addison Russell scored Baez in the eighth for what proved to be the game-winning run.

“It’s like being a bullpen guy or cornerback in the NFL,” Lester said. “You get burned and move on to the next one. It was a lot longer layoff than normal between starts. You let it fester and think about it for a while. But I think a lot of times you don’t read too much into it and not try to revamp your mechanics. Some things in my last couple starts haven’t felt right. I don’t know if the break helped. But I was just able to get my body to repeat better. My stuff had a little more crispness to it.”

In 2017 however, you cannot write off the Braves, who lead the league in last at-bat victories.  Once again they made it interesting in the 9th inning off Cubs closer Wade Davis.  With a 3-run lead in his pocket, Davis began by retiring Ender Inciarte.  However, his control then seemed to desert him, giving up three consecutive hits to Phillips, Freddie Freeman and Matt Kemp.  

Phillips and Freeman both scored to cut the deficit to a run.  Lane Adams then pinch-ran for Kemp and promptly stole second base.  With the tying run now in scoring position and first base open, Davis then opted to pitch to Braves catcher, Tyler Flowers.  His confidence was justified as Flowers flied out, but with two down Davis wasn't taking any chances with red-hot Matt Adams.  An intentional walk of Adams was followed by an unintentional walk of Braves debutant, Sean Rodriguez to load the bases.  However, Davis, who hasn't blown a save in 25 attempts, remained perfect in 2017 by retiring Johan Camargo to end the game.

"I've probably had two or three this year where I just don't know where anything is going," Davis said. "With the outcome that the team wins, I'm not even upset.  I was just happy I could make one or two pitches and get out of it,"

 "It was exciting, kind of like a playoff game with the energy and everything else in that stadium," Braves manager Brian Snitker said. "It was good to see the guys come back. It was a good, hard-fought game by both sides."  Flowers said the ninth "was fun, and it was almost real fun."

Following the disappointment of being unable to come back in this game, the Braves continue the series tomorrow, sending rookie hurler Sean Newcomb to face John Lackey and try to even their record once again.

Andrew Bracegirdle

17 July 2017