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Atlanta Braves no match for red-hot Cubs in 6-1 loss
0430Braves
Atlanta Braves left fielder Jeff Francoeur looks on after Chicago Cubs' Matt Szczur hit a grand slam during the eighth inning of Friday's game in Chicago. - photo by Paul Beaty

Braves at Cubs

When: 2:20 p.m. Saturday

Where: Wrigley Field, Atlanta

On TV: Fox Sports South

CHICAGO — The Atlanta Braves are going to have to wait a little longer to come up with just their second winning streak this season.

The Braves (5-18) wasted Freddie Freeman’s solo home run and a strong rookie pitching performance from Aaron Blair, as Matt Szczur’s eighth-inning grand slam led to a 6-1 loss to the Chicago Cubs.

Blair, in his second major league start, showed little tension, completing six innings while giving up one run on two hits.

“I started throwing off speed for strikes, keeping them off balance,” Blair said. “Even when I didn’t make the perfect pitch they were still hitting the ball right at guys.”

Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez wanted to keep him in the game. Instead, when Drew Stubbs struck out with the bases loaded against Jon Lester, Gonzalez took him out for pinch hitter Jace Peterson.

“If Stubby splits the gap here I’m going to let him hit,” Gonzalez said. “But you get a situation where it’s a 1-1 game in the seventh and runs are a premium, we try to get another run there.

“He was really good. He’s had two major league outings so far and he has been really impressive.”

But they couldn’t take advantage. Peterson struck out looking and Nick Markakis, who has reached base safely by hit or walk in 21 of 22 starts this season, grounded out to first base, ending the inning without a run.

“He’s been the most steady hitter we’ve had since day one,” Gonzalez said. “You have a shot with Markakis. That didn’t materialize.”

The Braves loaded the bases on two hits and a walk off Jim Johnson (0-3) in the eighth before lefty Eric O’Flaherty replaced him and allowed Anthony Rizzo’s go-ahead one-out single.

The 26-year-old Szczur followed by crushing Chris Withrow’s fastball to left and the Cubs improved to 17-5, the best 22-game start since the 1907 club went 18-4.

“Atlanta doesn’t have a very good record right now,” Cubs manager Joe Maddon said, “but they played great.”

After snapping an eight-game skid in Boston on Thursday night, the Braves didn’t get into their hotel rooms until 3:30 a.m., less than 10 hours before the first pitch.

And it was far from the Cubs’ only advantage on a 44-degree, cloudy day.

While Maddon was asked before the game about Chicago’s best start in more than a century, Gonzalez fielded a question about his job security with, “It’s not like you’re throwing games.”

After starting 0-9, the Braves won four straight before their eight-game losing streak.

“I liked the way we played,” Gonzalez said. “The eighth inning unraveled on us.”

TRAINER’S ROOM
Braves: Gonzalez remains optimistic that CF Ender Inciarte (hamstring) will return from the disabled list next week. . 2B Gordon Beckham (hamstring) is healing faster. “Inciarte has been a month. I think Beckham won’t take the full month,” Gonzalez said.

Cubs: Kris Bryant (mild ankle sprain) was out of the lineup, but an MRI revealed no damage after he was hurt running the bases Thursday.

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