CHICAGO — Struggling rookie Mike Foltynewicz and the Braves were such a glaring underdog against the Cubs and surging ace Jake Arrieta, one might’ve figured the unexpected would happen and Atlanta would pull out a win.
The unexpected did not happen.
Arrieta blanked the Braves for six innings and the Cubs rocked Foltynewicz for four runs in the third inning of a 7-1 Chicago win Thursday night to open a four-game series at Wrigley Field, the Braves’ 19th loss in their past 21 road games.
Foltynewicz (4-5) showed signs of his big potential in the first two innings, but ended up allowing eight hits, two homers and a career-high seven runs in 4 2/3 innings, with two walks and six strikeouts. He fell to 1-3 with a 7.67 ERA in five starts since returning to the rotation, including a 9.00 ERA in his past four starts (21 earned runs in 21 innings).
“I mean, if you don’t look at the numbers, I think I threw the ball OK,” Foltynewicz said. “It was one of the better games I’ve had (in terms of ) command of my fastball. They just hit good pitches. Sometimes you’ve to to tip your cap to them. But it’s the best I’ve felt all year, just things didn’t go my way.”
The Braves rookie has allowed more earned runs (13) in nine innings over his past two starts than Arrieta has allowed in 86 innings over his past 12. Nevertheless, Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez and veteran catcher A.J. Pierzynski were encouraged by Foltnynewicz’s work, particularly in the first two innings when he had five ground-ball outs and one strikeout and allowed one walk and one single.
“I told Folty to be proud of the way he threw tonight,” Pierzynski said. “I know he gave up some runs. The line score probably didn’t match kind of with what he had tonight, but it was definitely a step in the right direction. I thought his fastball command was as good as I’ve seen. I thought his breaking balls were good. He threw some really good split-fingers, got some outs on those, which is kind of a pitch-in-progress. He did a lot of good things.”
Arrieta gave up four singles — all on the ground — and one walk with seven strikeouts in six scoreless innings, recording his majors-leading 15th win (against six losses) and improving to 9-1 during an utterly dominant dozen-starts stretch in which he has a 1.26 ERA and .166 opponents’ average.
He’s allowed two earned runs or fewer in 11 of those 12 starts, including one or no runs in eight of them.
Gonzalez was ejected by home-plate umpire Doug Eddings in the third inning for arguing balls and strikes. Eddings’ strike zone was inconsistent all night and the Braves felt that Foltynewicz got squeezed on multiple pitches that should’ve been called strikes in the early innings.
“His first two innings might have been the best two innings I’ve seen him throw, really,” Gonzalez said. “The game didn’t turn out the way the first two innings went, but you sit back here and you watch the game on television, and you pull up numbers, and you see how well Arrieta’s done the last three years, and you look at his first two years in the big leagues. And you’re watching these guys pitch tonight, and it’s like, somewhere down the line Jake figured it out, how to pitch. And I think that’s where we are with Folty.”
Adonis Garcia’s bases-loaded sacrifice fly in the eighth inning allowed the Braves to avoid being shut out, but they’ve scored just 49 runs during their 2-19 road slide, including two or fewer runs in 11 of their past 18 road games.
The Braves had only one runner reach base until the fourth inning, by which point they already trailed 4-0 after Anthony Rizzo’s three-run homer in a four-run Cubs third inning.
When they did get two on with none out in the fourth – Cameron Maybin reached on an error and Freddie Freeman on a ground-ball single that beat the shift – the Braves failed to score after A.J. Pierzynski grounded into a double play and Garcia struck out.
The Braves also had runners on the corners with one out in the fifth after Jace Peterson’s ground-ball single, stolen base, a wild pitch and Michael Bourn’s nine-pitch walk. But with the Braves trailing 5-0, Foltynewicz was left in to bat for himself and struck out, and Nick Markakis grounded out to end the inning.
They did not hit a ball in play in the air against Arrieta, who gave up only four hits, all on the ground, two by Peterson through the right side.
Arrieta’s streak of 12 consecutive quality starts is the longest by a Cub since Greg Maddux had 14 during a stretch in June-August 1992, the year that Maddux won the first of his four consecutive NL Cy Young Awards. (Maddux won the next three awards as a Brave).
“I mean, hell, he’s got four pitches he throws – plus-96 (fastball), cutter, curveball, changeup,” Pierzynski said. “Throws it in, throws it out, throws it up, throws it down. No one’s doing a whole lot against him. I actually thought we did a really good job of having good at-bats against him. We got him out (of the game early) A hundred pitches in six innings with no runs, that’s pretty good. He made pitches when he had to, and we didn’t have many chances.”
Arrieta matched his fewest innings during the streak, and needed 107 pitches to get through six innings.
“We had long at-bats, walks, like I said we didn’t make a lot of early outs,” Pierzynksi said. “We did it right. Unfortunately, he’s pretty good.”
After Gonzalez was tossed in the third inning, Coghlan followed immediately with an RBI single on a 96-mph fastball in a 2-0 count, putting the Cubs ahead 1-0. Rizzo ambushed Foltynewicz on the next pitch, a 98-mph fastball that he drove over the fence in the right-field corner for a three-run homer, his 24th of the season.
In two pitches, the Braves had gone from scoreless tie to trailing by four runs. Addison Russell added a solo homer with two out in the fourth for a 5-0 lead, the ninth homer that Foltynewicz has allowed in 27 innings over five starts.
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