Chicago seemed to have more urgency earlier in the night, teeing off on Braves starter Bryce Elder while ace Justin Steele mowed down the Braves’ lineup through five innings. But a 6-0 hole isn’t insurmountable for this Braves offense. They scored seven runs across the sixth through eight innings to steal the win and trim their magic number to 1 for the National League’s top seed.
“All wins are big, but especially at this time of the year,” said outfielder Kevin Pillar, who homered. “We know how important that game was to them. Even though we’ve accomplished a lot of what we’ve wanted to accomplish, it’s still our job to go out every day and put our best foot forward and try to win games. Sometimes the intensity is a little hard to match. We know what it’s like – at least I know what it’s like, some guys in here know what it’s like – to be in this point of the season fighting for a playoff spot where every win is so crucial and every loss is so devastating.
“So it just shows a lot about our team that we can just go out there and roll out a lineup and just play. … But to be down (six) runs, and nothing was going well for us, to just stay in there and have guys contribute up and down the lineup and out of the bullpen, it just shows what this team is about.”
2. The word “steal” was used intentionally regarding the victory. A gift fell from the sky for the Braves.
With two on and two out in the eighth, the Cubs committed a horrible error that might loom large in their postseason pursuit. Braves catcher Sean Murphy flew out to right field, but as Cubs center fielder Cody Bellinger approached right fielder Seiya Suzuki, the latter misplayed the ball and it found the grass. The tying and go-ahead runs scored.
“I was getting ready to put the third out down on my card, then I happened to peek up and see it,” manager Brian Snitker said. “We’ll take it.”
Pillar provided an outfielder’s perspective: “It’s obviously unfortunate for the player and team over there. You hate to see that happen. It’s a lonely feeling being on the other end of that. I think everyone in the dugout, at this level, you assume a lot of things are going to happen. Defense in the big leagues is as sure a thing as it comes. So when that ball is hit, there’s a moment of, ‘Man, we just left this pitcher (Drew Smyly) off the hook.’ And you track the fly ball. ... Then when it drops, you’re pretty excited about it. We fought hard to win that game.”
3. Elder hasn’t been sharp over his past three outings, and it’s a concern given he’ll likely be needed to start in the NL Division Series with Charlie Morton sidelined. Elder surrendered five runs on seven hits in 3-2/3 innings. He walked four.
“Just struggle with the command,” Snitker said. “The command wasn’t great. A little better than last time but it was pretty much where he was last time when he left. I don’t know what the reason is.”
Over his last three starts, Elder has allowed 13 runs on 19 hits over 12-1/3 innings. He’s lasted only 3-2/3 innings in each of his past two starts, posting a 2:9 strikeout-to-walk ratio in that time. Those outings came against the Phillies and Cubs, two of the Braves’ likeliest opponents in the NLDS.
Snitker noted Elder is in uncharted territory with his workload. His 171 innings are well beyond the 159 (52 in majors) innings the 24-year-old threw last season.
“I’m not concerned,” Snitker said. “We’ll just keep working with him and see what we’re going to do at the end of the week (when he could make one more start). It’s been a long year for him. It’s his first time to go the entire distance. That may have something to do with it, his first experience with all this and these innings.”
4. Pillar homered in his second consecutive game. He put the Braves on the board with a solo shot off Steele. Pillar, who started Tuesday, has been valuable depth and beloved in the clubhouse.
5. Cubs shortstop Dansby Swanson returned to Atlanta for the first time since leaving the Braves in free agency last winter. Swanson, an Atlanta area native, enjoyed a nice seven-year career with the Braves, becoming a champion in 2021 and an All-Star in 2022.
The Braves played a tribute video for Swanson before the game and he received an ovation. He tipped his helmet to the crowd during another round of applause before his first at-bat. Swanson went 0-for-4 with a walk and stolen base. He struck out against Raisel Iglesias to end the game.
Stat to know
301 (The Braves reached the 300-homer mark Tuesday, becoming the third MLB team to do so following the 2019 Twins and 2019 Yankees.)
“Better to be lucky than good some days.” – Murphy
The Braves and Cubs continue their series Wednesday. The Braves will start rookie Darius Vines (1-0, 4.40) against Cubs veteran righty Jameson Taillon (8-10, 5.05).