(Photo credit: Matt Marton-USA TODAY Sports)
The Chicago Cubs will have a lot to play for when they make their only visit to Atlanta this season to begin a three-game series Tuesday with the Braves, who have some unfinished business of their own.
The Cubs (82-74) are trying to nail down one of the National League's final wild-card spots. They were the third wild-card team entering Monday and No. 6 playoff seed. Chicago was a half game behind the No. 2 wild card, the Arizona Diamondbacks, and just a game ahead of the Miami Marlins, who were just outside the field.
There is less drama for the Braves (100-56), who are trying to hold off the Los Angeles Dodgers for the No. 1 seed and guarantee home-field advantage throughout the National League playoffs. Atlanta has a 3 1/2-game lead with six games remaining over Los Angeles in that race. The Braves also have a three-game edge over Baltimore in the race to determine home-field advantage through the World Series.
The Braves took three of four at Washington over the weekend, splitting a doubleheader on Sunday. The Cubs completed a three-game sweep of the Colorado Rockies this past weekend but are 6-10 since Sept. 6.
The Cubs won two of three games against the Braves at Chicago, Aug. 4-6.
The pitching matchup in the series opener features Atlanta right-hander Bryce Elder (12-4, 3.63) against Chicago lefty Justin Steele (16-5, 3.00). Each one is coming off a shaky appearance.
Elder lasted only 3 2/3 innings in his last start on Wednesday against Philadelphia. He allowed four runs on three hits, two of them homers, and walked a season-high five with no strikeouts.
"It wasn't any good," Elder said. "I thought it was pretty worthless, actually."
Elder's only career appearance against the Cubs came on Aug. 5. He took the loss, pitching 4 1/3 innings and allowing seven runs, five earned.
Steele has been roughed up in his past two outings, giving up six runs in each start. He lasted only three innings and allowed six runs on eight hits in his most recent start on Wednesday against Pittsburgh.
"It was just one of those nights," Steele said. "It seemed like whether they hit it hard or not, if they put it in play, it was going to find some grass and be a hit. You just have to move on from it."
Steele will be making his fourth career appearance, third start, against the Braves. He is 2-0 with a 3.97 ERA against Atlanta, with all previous appearances coming at Wrigley Field. He last faced them on Aug. 6 and came away with a win, giving up four runs, three earned, in 5 1/3 innings.
Atlanta is also chasing the major league record for home runs. The Braves have hit 299 homers, leaving them eight short of matching the record of 307 set by the Minnesota Twins in 2019.
Atlanta first baseman Matt Olson set an Atlanta record with his 133rd RBI on Sunday. He is two shy of the franchise record of 135 set by Hall of Famer Eddie Mathews in 1953. Olson leads the majors with 53 homers, also a franchise record.
Chicago's Seiya Suzuki has been wielding the hot bat since Aug. 18. During those 36 games, the right fielder is hitting .363 (49-for-135) with nine home runs and 13 doubles.
- Field Level Media