Cubs hand Braves 20th loss in 22 road games

The Braves staked him to a one-run lead in the first inning and a two-run lead in the fourth, but Miller couldn’t protect either as the All-Star pitcher’s rather astonishing winless drought continued with a 5-3 loss to the Cubs on Friday afternoon at Wrigley Field.

After Miller walked Anthony Rizzo with one out in the sixth inning, Kris Bryant and Miguel Montero hit consecutive RBI doubles to give the Cubs their first lead, 4-3, which they wouldn’t relinquish.

Miller (5-10) lost his ninth consecutive decision over 17 starts, and the Braves lost for the 20th time in their past 22 road games and fell to 11-27 since their 42-42 start.

“It’s tough,” said Nick Markakis, who singled and scored in the first inning, and hit two-out, two-run double in the fourth for a 3-1 lead. “It’s frustrating for him and then for us. We’ve just got to keep plugging away.”

With two runners on and two out in the ninth, Freddie Freeman ended the game by grounding out to the second baseman playing in shallow right field in a defensive shift. The Braves were 1-for-11 with runners in scoring position.

“Against a team like this, you’ve just got to keep adding on,” Markakis said. “You can’t stop. We couldn’t find a way to score some more runs.”

In the Cubs’ sixth, Bryant’s double kicked off a corner of the wall in foul territory and shot past left fielder Michael Bourn, the second bad-luck play of the day for Miller in a season in which he’s had far more than his share of them. But the Montero double was hit hard and likely would’ve scored two runs instead of one if the previous play hadn’t occurred.

Miller lasted 6 1/3 innings and was charged with six hits, five runs (three earned) and four walks with eight strikeouts.

“It was a good game,” Miller said. “Obviously we had a couple of errors, I made a couple of mistakes on the mound that were kind of costly. At the end of the day, we played good baseball, but not great. It’s a tough loss.”

The first unearned run came in the fifth inning after a throwing error by Pedro Ciriaco, in his first start at third base since July 19. The other unearned run scored after Andrelton Simmons’ two-out fielding error in the seventh inning, the first error for the Gold Glove shortstop since June 15.

“We (usually) play solid defense, and today we made two errors that cost us some runs,” said manager Fredi Gonzalez, whose Braves are 0-5 on a seven-game trip that started with a sweep at San Diego. “It cost Shelby a chance to get a ‘W’ or get even deeper in the ballgame. I don’t know when the last time our defense made an error that cost us anything, and today it did.”

Before Friday, Miller’s 16-start winless drought was the longest in baseball’s live-ball era (since 1920) by any pitcher who compiled an ERA as low as his (3.03) during the streak. Now he’s 0-9 with a 3.11 ERA over his past 17 starts, the longest winless stretch by a Braves starter since Jo-Jo Reyes’ 18-start drought from mid-June 2008 through mid-May 2009.

The Braves staked Miller to a 1-0 lead three batters in. After singles by Markakis and Cameron Maybin to start the first inning, Freeman hit a grounder to first, and Markakis slid and scored on the fielder’s choice. The Braves still had two runners on with none out, but A.J. Pierzynski and Jace Peterson struck out and Ciriaco grounded out.

The lead didn’t last long, as Chris Coghlan homered with two out in the first on an 0-2 fastball from Miller, who struck out the first two batters he faced before Coghlan’s 15th homer sailed into the basket atop the left-field fence.

Before Friday, the last time Miller had a two-run lead was June 8, when he left after seven innings with a 3-1 lead against the Padres, only to see the bullpen blow it in a 5-3, 11-inning loss. The last time he had a multi-run lead before that was his most-recent win, May 17 at Miami, when Miller was one out away from a no-hitter, but had to settle for a two-hit shutout.

He had a 3-1 lead Friday after Markakis’ double in the fourth inning. The Braves had a chance to do more damage, but Freeman struck out with runners on the corners to end the inning.

Cubs starter Kyle Hendricks allowed seven hits and three runs in five innings, with one walk and seven strikeouts.

The Braves scored three runs in the first four innings, after totaling a total of five runs while Miller was in the game during his six previous starts combined, including one or no runs while he was in five of those games.

Miller’s first season with the Braves has been one of the strangest in recent memory. He was 5-1 with a 1.33 ERA and .156 opponents’ average in his first eight starts. He hasn’t won since, and the Braves have lost in 14 of his past 16 starts.

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