The two youngest position players in the majors are part of one of the more dynamic top-of-the-order trios anywhere, as Ozzie Albies and Ronald Acuna showed again Wednesday night in combining with three-hole hitter Freddie Freeman to help the Braves in a stirring win against the Cubs at SunTrust Park.
Albies doubled and scored on a Freeman single in the first inning and tripled and scored on an Acuna single in the eighth inning to send the Braves to a 4-1 win on a night when Brandon McCarthy had the solid bounce-back start the team hoped to see from the veteran.
After Acuna singled to drive in Albies in the eighth for a 2-1 lead, the Braves scored twice more on bases-loaded walks by Tyler Flowers and Johan Camargo against Cubs relievers Carl Edwards and Justin Hancock.
McCarthy allowed five hits, one run and two walks with a season-high eight strikeouts in six innings for the Braves, who snapped a four-game home losing streak and ended the Cubs’ six-game winning streak in games in Atlanta.
The National League East-leading Braves have won 14 of their past 20 and have the best record (26-16) in the NL.
Albies started the first inning with a double off the center-field wall, the NL-leading 29th extra-base for the 21-year-old second baseman who’s in his first full season.
Boston’s Mookie Betts led the majors with 30 extra-base hits before Wednesday, the only player other than Albies who began the day with more than 26. Albies got his 30th in the eighth when he tripled to the right-center gap.
In the first inning, Albies advanced on an Acuna ground-out and scored on Freeman’s single for a 1-0 lead, but left-hander Tyler Chatwood allowed only two other hits in his 5-1/3 innings.
The Braves didn’t have another runner in scoring position with less than two out until the sixth, when Acuna singled and Freeman walked with one out before Nick Markakis grounded into an inning-ending double play.
But the Cubs’ pitching came apart in the eighth after Albies’ one-out triple. Acuna singled, the second night in a row he drove in the go-ahead run in the eighth (he did it with a homer Tuesday). This time, the Braves added more runs and closer Arodys Vizcaino didn’t blow the lead as he did in the ninth inning of Tuesday’s 3-2 loss.
Freeman followed Acuna’s eighth-inning single with one of his own before Markakis was walked intentionally to load the bases. Flowers then drew a walk to push the lead to 3-1, and one out later Camargo walked for a three-run lead.
The Cubs’ leadoff hitter reached in the second, fourth, fifth and sixth innings against McCarthy, but didn’t advance to second base in three of those instances. The exception was the fifth inning when the Cubs tied the score, 1-1.
After a leadoff single from Ian Happ and a sacrifice bunt, Kris Bryant’s two-out single got the run in. That was the only inning McCarthy faced more than four batters.
McCarthy had a much-needed stabilizing performance after two of his worst starts, consecutive losses in which he was torched for 23 hits, 14 runs and three homers in just 8-1/3 total innings against the Giants and Marlins. What made those more perplexing was how they followed McCarthy going 4-0 with a 3.09 ERA in his first six starts, with the veteran conceding that he didn’t have a clue why he got such poor results in the past two outings.
Manager Brian Snitker thought it was mostly a case of his sinker, McCarthy’s bread-and-butter pitch, not moving like normal in those two poor outings. Against the Cubs, it was noticeable how much more effectively McCarthy kept the ball down in the strike zone, and when it was up, it was usually at the top of the zone, out of the comfortable reach of Cubs hitters.
He finished his outing by walking the leadoff hitter in the sixth, then striking out Javier Baez and getting Kyle Schwarber to line into an inning-ending double play started by some fine glovework from first baseman Freeman.
Though McCarthy had thrown a modest 85 pitches (56 strikes), Snitker went to his bullpen to start the seventh, with Shane Carle giving up a leadoff double before retiring the next three batters. Carle was brought back to start the seventh but left after a leadoff single from Kris Bryant. Left-hander A.J. Minter was brought in to face Anthony Rizzo and got him on a pop up.