Jeff Samardzija has faced the Braves twice this season and looked like a Cy Young Award candidate both times. But that’s not too surprising, considering the Cubs pitcher has faced them only on Mondays.
The Braves don’t like Mondays. They don’t win on Mondays. They barely even score on Mondays.
Samardzija had a career-high 11 strikeouts in seven innings and Luis Valbuena hit a three-run double in the seventh inning that lifted Chicago
to a 4-1 series-opening win Monday night at Turner Field, dropping the Braves’ record to a stunning 0-11 on Mondays.
They have scored a total of 17 runs in those 11 games.
“We got beat in all three facets of the game tonight, for whatever reason,” said Chipper Jones, who had a leadoff double in the seventh inning and was still there when the inning ended.
The Braves have lost four of their past five games and six of nine to fall to five games behind NL East leader Washington and 1-1/2 games behind second-place New York. The Braves are 3-4 on their 10-game homestand.
Asked if something was missing on this Braves team, Jones said, “Just the inability to put all three facets together at the same time. And do it consistently, every…single…day. For whatever reason, it’s just not happening. We get a good pitching performance, we don’t swing the bats. We get a good pitching performance, we don’t play defense. We swing the bats, we don’t pitch. It’s frustrating. But if the guys in this clubhouse want to get to where we want to go, we better start playing better.”
Dan Uggla’s second-inning infield single was the Braves’ only hit until Michael Bourn’s two-out double in the sixth
. Martin Prado followed with a single that tied the score at 1-all. But not for long.
Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez has complained about his pitchers’ lack of “shutdown innings” after the team scores. Monday was another example of just what he hates to see, as the Cubs answered the Braves’ single run
with three in the top of the seventh against Braves starter Tommy Hanson (9-5).
Bryan LaHair and Steve Clevenger had leadoff singles to start the seventh and put Cubs on the corners.
After No. 7 hitter Darwin Barney walked to load the bases, pitching coach Roger McDowell came out to the mound for a chat. The next pitch was a slider to Valbuena, who hit it to the right-field corner, clearing the bases for a 4-1 lead.
“It just came down to that last inning, really,” said Hanson, who had eight strikeouts and was charged with four runs, seven hits and one walk
“It’s frustrating. It’s not like I went out there and got beat up. I felt like I had my good stuff and it just came down to that one inning. Those are the frustrating games, and the ones that are tough to swallow.”
Chicago recorded its
sixth win in seven games after a long, sorry stretch for the NL Central cellar-dwellers that began soon after the Cubs’ 2-1 series win against the Braves in May at Wrigley Field.
“Tommy pitched great until they scored the three runs,” Jones said. “But the offense and defense, at times, wasn’t there.”
July with a loss after going 4-0 in five June starts. He’s 0-4 in four career starts against the Cubs and the Braves scored one or no runs while he was in all of those games.
“I think the game was Samardzija,” Gonzalez said. “He kept us off-balance, throwing a 93, 94-mph fastball and he had his split going. There were a couple times he threw it four and five times in a row, and we had no chance on it, especially to left-handed hitters. The eighth inning, their defense made some heck of a plays to get them out of a possible jam. All of a sudden, it may be first and second with nobody out, [then] it’s inning over. It’s just the way it goes right now.”
Samardzija snapped a four-start losing streak and held the Braves to four hits, one run and one walk while surpassing his previous career-best strikeout total by two. In two starts against the Braves this season, he’s allowed two runs and nine hits with three walks and 18 strikeouts in 14 innings.
“He was good today. Real good,” Jones said. “Good slider, good split, located his fastball, stayed on top of the hitters. You know, you’ve got to go out there and respect 95-96 [mph fastballs], and he was getting his secondary pitches where he wants them — it’s going to be a long day for anybody.”
Hanson was also the loser in the May 7 game at Chicago against Samardzija, who that night allowed one run, five hits and two walks with seven strikeouts in seven innings of a 5-1 Cubs win.
Samardzija had won only one of nine starts since then and was 0-4 with a 12.27 ERA in his past four before Monday. But on another blue Monday for the Braves, the big right-hander was suddenly dominant again.
“Both times I’ve faced him he’s had unbelievable stuff,” Hanson said. “Throws hard and good split, and he started throwing those sliders in there. Anytime you’re mixing three pitches, that’s tough.”
Samardzija had a new career-best 10 strikeouts in the first six innings, punching out No. 3 hitter Jason Heyward on four pitches to end the inning after Prado’s RBI single. Heyward went 0-for-3 with 3 strikeouts against Samardzija, after homering against him for the Braves’ only run May 7.
The 11th strikeout victim was Freddie Freeman in the seventh, after Jones’ leadoff double. The Braves have been dreadful lately with runners in scoring position and went 1-for-6 Monday. After Freeman struck out, Dan Uggla flied out and Brian McCann grounded out.
Freeman also made a pair of errors in the seventh and eighth innings.
The Braves had a runner at third with one out in the second inning after Andrelton Simmons drew a leadoff walk, stole second and advanced on a wild pitch. But Michael Bourn hit a broken-bat liner to shortstop and Simmons, going on contact, was doubled off third to end the inning.
“In that situation, you’ve got to sell out and go on contact,” Gonzalez said, supporting Simmons’ baserunning decision. “The score was 0-0 at the time. You’ve got to go on contact. You can’t read the ball there, for me anyway. If that ball is on the ground, he scores easy. It was an aggressive play and we hit a line drive at the shortstop. That’s the way it goes.”
And that’s the way it’s gone on Mondays for the Braves all season.