A showdown between two of the first-place teams in the National League continues Tuesday night with the Atlanta Braves taking on the Chicago Cubs. Atlanta leads the National League East by 5.5 games over second-place Philadelphia coming into this one, while Chicago has a one-game lead over Milwaukee thanks to its victory in the series opener Monday night.
There were a few fireworks in that contest, with the Cubs putting up eight runs, though the first run caused the biggest blast. Willson Contreras hit a solo shot in the second inning, then made some gestures toward Atlanta catcher Tyler Flowers and the Braves bench while rounding the bases. He and Flowers exchanged words as Contreras went to the dugout and the benches cleared, with each team getting warnings, though that was the end of it.
The moneyline for this contest has the Atlanta Braves -105 and the Chicago Cubs -105. The over/under has been set at 12.
Needing To Be Better
Left-hander Max Fried will take the mound for the Braves looking for a better result than he’s been able to put together in June. Fried is 1-0 with a 6.53 ERA in four starts this month, though he did get a win in his last outing. In that one, he went six innings, giving up eight hits and two earned runs, striking out six and walking one in a win over the Mets. It was Fried’s first victory since May 22. On the season, he is now 8-3 with a 4.03 ERA.
The Atlanta lineup has plenty of talented players, but none has been more dangerous this season than first baseman Freddie Freeman. Freeman leads the Braves in batting average (.315), home runs (21), RBI (61) and runs scored (59). Ronald Acuna Jr. has also been troublesome to opposing pitchers, hitting .289 with 18 home runs, 50 RBI and 54 runs scored. He also has a team-best 10 stolen bases.
Adbert Alzolay was impressive in his first Major League appearance last week, going four innings in a relief appearance against the Mets and giving up just one hit — a solo homer by Todd Frazier — while striking out five and walking two to pick up the victory. Now the 24-year-old right-hander makes his first start in the majors against one of the most lethal lineups in baseball. He’ll certainly be watched closely by manager Joe Maddon to see if he struggles at all so he can be lifted before getting hit hard and hurting his confidence in the long term.
Of course, the Cubs also have a murderer’s row of hitters, with five players with at least 15 home runs. Anthony Rizzo and Javier Baez lead the way with 19 apiece, with Rizzo also pacing the team in RBI with 55. Contreras and Kyle Schwarber have belted 16 home runs each, and Contreras leads the team with a .294 batting average. There’s definitely a lot of pop in the lineup, and the Cubs would like to forge a lead early to help Alzolay relax and pitch his game with a lead.
Atlanta Evens Things Up
Fried hasn’t been at his best this month, but his last outing seemed to show he’s coming out of his mini-slump. The Braves’ ace should come up big in this one, with the Atlanta hitters doing some damage on the young Cubs hurler early and often. I’m picking Atlanta -105 to earn the victory in this one.