CHICAGO — After the Braves hit three or four fly balls they believed would’ve been home runs at Wrigley Field if not for a consistent wind blowing in from left field in Friday’s 1-0 loss to the Cubs, Atlanta manager Brian Snitker was asked Saturday morning — given that similar conditions existed — what he might say to his team.
“I’ll just tell them to lower their launch angle, I guess,” Snitker said, and laughed. “No, I don’t know. We hit a few yesterday that would’ve been homers, but Mother Nature. Hopefully we can hit a few more line drives in the gaps and get some guys on base, and create some runs for ourselves.”
They did hit few more to the gaps and get more runners on base Saturday, but not as many as the Cubs did, as the Braves dropped a 6-3 game in Chicago. It earned an improbable series win for the Cubs, a team that came in with a 10-game losing streak, over an Atlanta team that began the series riding a 14-game winning streak.
And now, the Braves, who had swept four consecutive series before this, need to win Sunday to avoid being swept at Wrigley. The Braves trimmed the NL East-leading Mets’ division lead from 10 1/2 games to four games during their 14-game winning streak, but now they’ve slipped to 6 1/2 games back.
The Braves and Mets are the only teams not to have a three-game losing streak all season, but Atlanta needs a win Sunday to avoid losing that distinction. Who’d have thought the Cubs would be the team to not just end the Braves’ winning streak, but now have a chance to be the first to sweep the Braves this season?
On an unseasonably cool and breezy Saturday, the Cubs peppered Kyle Wright for five runs in six innings. Wright gave up a career-high 11 hits, including nine singles and a Jason Heyward double on a two-out, third-inning bloop that landed in left field in front of Adam Duvall and bounced to the left at a sharp angle past the outfielder.
At first, I thought Adam Duvall misplayed this. Look at the bounce, though. That was wicked.
4-0, Cubs pic.twitter.com/vRjdrmTmWv
— Justin Toscano (@JustinCToscano) June 18, 2022
That allowed a run to score to push the lead to 4-0.
“I didn’t see where it hit or what it hit,” Duvall said. “It’s disappointing because there’s obviously runners on base. You don’t ever want something like that to happen, because the guy’s up there on the mound working hard. But there was really nothing I could do about it.”
A reporter asked Snitker if the game seemed a little unusual from the outset.
“To put it mildly,” he said. “The start of the game and things that happened — I don’t know. We didn’t execute great. I didn’t think Kyle threw all that bad. I mean, really, it was kind of a weird game all over, for me. But you know what? (The Cubs) put the ball in play. Put the ball in play on days like this, some good things will happen. And they did. They went the other way with a lot of pitches and made things happen.”
The Braves, who outscored opponents 101-41 during their 14-game winning streak, went 13 innings in this series before scoring their first run — a fifth-inning leadoff homer by Duvall, the first ball to leave the yard in the first two games of the series.
“These conditions aren’t ideal, that’s for sure,” Duvall said. “It’s hard to get extra-base hits when it’s blowing in 40 miles an hour. I think I just hit it in the exact right spot or something. I didn’t expect it to go out. I felt like we hit some balls really well that under normal circumstances would have been homers, and then we’re talking about a completely different situation.
“But yeah, when you playing an outside sport, you’ve got to play through the conditions. I feel like we’re hitting the ball well. Just got to keep swinging it.”
The Braves’ winning streak snapped Friday was one shy of the modern franchise-record streak of 15 by the 2000 team. But after hitting 35 homers and scoring 101 runs during the 14-game streak, including six or more runs in nine games, the Braves have scored in only two of 18 innings against the lowly Cubs.
Not that they aren’t hitting balls hard, as Snitker, Duvall and others pointed out. In Friday’s 1-0 loss, the Braves had eight of the nine highest exit velocities in the game, and 12 of the top 14. In that game, the Braves had seven of eight balls that left bats at over 100 mph, and all seven of those hard-hit balls went for outs.
The MLB batting average for balls with exit velocity of 100 mph or greater is .573.
On Saturday, the Braves had the only three balls hit with 109 mph or higher exit velocity, with the top two both by Ronald Acuña Jr. That included his ninth-inning line out to left field at a game-high 113.2 mph for the second out of the inning, with a runner on base following Michael Harris III’s RBI single that trimmed the lead to 6-3.
Acuña was followed by Dansby Swanson, who lined out at 104.8 mph on the eighth pitch of the at-bat to end the game.
“Lot of hard-hit balls,” Snitker said. “Even in that last inning. Those balls could have pierced a gap and who knows what happens in that inning? But it happens. All you can do is hit it, you can’t guide it. And we hit some balls good today.
“We’ve had some hard-hit balls the first two games. Just got to keep banging it, hopefully tomorrow they drop.”
The hard-hit rate has been a thing for the Braves much of the season — specifically, the inordinate number of outs they have on hard-hit balls, at least in games outside of the 14-game winning streak. During the streak, so many of those line drives, and plenty of other balls not scorched, dropped in for hits — or sailed over the outfield fence.
Entering Saturday, the Braves’ 186 outs on balls hit 100 mph or higher was second-most in the NL, behind the Phillies’ 190.
The Cubs, who were outscored 90-30 during their 10-game skid, have outscored the Braves 7-3 in the past two days to clinch their first series win since May 16-18 vs. Pittsburgh. They beat a pitcher on Saturday, Wright, who has put together a solid case for All-Star consideration.
Wright took his fourth loss in 11 decisions and saw his ERA climb from 2.57 to 2.94.
“I thought I threw the ball pretty well,” Wright said. “Once I came out of the game, I realized I gave up 11 hits and I was like, ‘Geez, what happened?’ Lot of soft contact. You’ve just got to give some credit to them for putting the ball in play and making things happen. It was kind of a weird game, in my opinion. Didn’t feel like I gave up that many hits. Thought I executed pretty good. There were a couple of times where I thought I could have put guys away, but I didn’t. That was the one thing I thought I could have done a better job.”
The Cubs got their final run on a line-drive homer by Rafael Ortega to lead off the seventh, on the first pitch by Collin McHugh since the veteran Braves reliever returned from the COVID-19 injured list. The homers by Duvall and Ortega are the only two in the first two games of the windswept series, and both were hit hard to right field, into a cross wind rather than directly into the wind in left or center.
It was certainly an eventful afternoon for Duvall, who also hit — or rather, walked —- into an unusual inning-ending double play in the second inning, with the Braves trailing 2-0 at the time. With William Contreras on first base, Duvall hit a pop up that landed between three fielders in shallow right.
After first baseman Alfonso Rivas picked up the ball and threw out Contreras at second, Duvall started to walk to the dugout, thinking there were three outs. There were only two, but Duvall became the third out when first-base coach Eric Young alerted him that the inning wasn’t over, but made the mistake of touching the player’s back in doing so.
“You can’t touch the (runner),” Snitker said. “You can’t help him.”
Contreras brothers’ big day
It was the moment that the Contreras brothers had long thought about, one they said they had dreamed about as kids growing up Venezuela, and a moment that so many fans of the Braves or Cubs had hoped to see. It happened in the first inning Saturday.
In the first game that the Braves’ William Contreras and his older brother, Willson Contreras, played against each other in pro ball, Willson came to bat in the first inning, after a leadoff single by Christopher Morel.
Willson stepped to the plate, reached out, and the brothers gripped hands and pulled each other close for a hug. Their parents came from Venezuela and were seated not far away in the stands.
Nothing but love between the Contreras bros. 🥺 pic.twitter.com/JcGlJdpxPn
— MLB (@MLB) June 18, 2022
“Incredible,” William Contreras said through an interpreter. “It’s one of those things that we both dreamed about since we were young kids. To be able to experience that, it’s inexplicable. Just very excited, happy, dream come true. Kind of like a we’ve-made-it moment. And now it’s just time to keep moving forward.”
Wright stepped back from the pitching rubber briefly to watch with everyone else at Wrigley Field.
“It was really cool,” Wright said. “I was hoping they would have a little moment there. I can only imagine if that was my brother, I would want that too. It’s pretty special for two brothers to be able to do that. There’s not too many guys in this game that have been able to do that. So for them to be able to share that moment was really cool. Happy for both of them.”
Willson, a two-time All-Star, had three of the Cubs’ 13 hits, including a fourth-inning double. William went 2-for-4 and also had a double. Willson, 30, is six years older than William.
They were the first brothers to start at catcher in the same major-league game since Yadier and Jose Molina did on June 10, 2014.
“That was pretty cool,” Snitker said. “You don’t see that much, obviously. It’s nice for them, their families, and everything. And both of them had really nice days, too.”
After the game, both brothers stayed on the field in uniform for more than 20 minutes visiting with their parents.
“I don’t think the smile dropped from their faces,” William Contreras said. “They’re really happy, just like we are. Excited. It was a dream for all of us, so it’s something that we accomplished together. Obviously big thanks to them for all the sacrifices that they made for us growing up. They’re a big part of the reason that we’re here.”
(Photo: David Banks / USA Today)