While the Atlanta Braves are on the verge of clinching their first division title in eight years, they're hoping to build some momentum heading into the playoffs.
The visiting Braves will try to avoid their 10th loss in 15 games as they look to wrap up the NL East crown against the Chicago Cubs on Friday.
Justin Upton and Dan Uggla homered to help Atlanta (90-62) snap a three-game losing streak with Wednesday's 5-2 victory over second-place Washington. The Braves can secure their first East title since 2005 - the last of 14 straight division crowns - with a win and a Nationals loss to Miami.
Following a prolonged slump that has kept the team from clinching earlier, Atlanta looks to build on a promising offensive rally against the Nationals. The Braves, averaging 3.0 runs while batting .202 during this 5-9 stretch, scored five times in the final four innings Wednesday.
"We've been struggling for a while here," said Upton, who hit three home runs to help Atlanta sweep a three-game home set from the Cubs in April. "At some point, we had to break out."
The Braves might have a difficult time continuing that effort considering the way Scott Baker (0-0, 0.82 ERA) has pitched in two starts since coming off the disabled list.
The right-hander has allowed five hits over 11 innings but has received two runs of support. Baker, who underwent Tommy John surgery in April 2012, allowed one run and three hits over six innings in a 2-1 loss at Pittsburgh on Saturday.
"We're not out here for him to injure that thing or have a setback," manager Dale Sveum told MLB's official website. "It's just a matter of him getting on the mound and doing things for his own good, as well as the organization."
Baker seeks his first victory since July 23, 2011, while leading the Cubs to their first back-to-back wins since Sept. 9-10. Anthony Rizzo and Logan Watkins had three hits and Chicago hit three homers to end a five-game skid with Thursday's 5-1 win in Milwaukee.
Paul Maholm (10-10, 4.35) will try to end his recent road woes in his return to the rotation after the Braves skipped his spot to examine lingering elbow discomfort.
The left-hander has gone 1-0 with a 3.18 ERA in his last three starts overall, but he's 0-4 with a 7.66 ERA in his past five on the road.
Maholm might be able to end that slide at Wrigley Field, where he's 6-1 with a 2.00 ERA in his last 10 starts dating to his time with the Cubs in 2012. He hasn't faced Chicago since 2011 while with Pittsburgh.
Starlin Castro has fared well against Maholm with nine hits in 21 at-bats. He's also batting .375 during an eight-game home hitting streak versus the Braves.
Although Kevin Gregg pitched the ninth Thursday and is 32 for 37 in save opportunities, Sveum said he plans to use right-hander Pedro Strop in save situations for the remainder of the season. Strop was 0 for 3 in save opportunities with Baltimore before being acquired July 2.
|September 11, 2013||Paul Maholm||Day-to-Day||Sore left elbow|
|September 10, 2013||Justin Upton||Day-to-Day||Bruised right knee|
|August 29, 2013||Justin Upton||Day-to-Day||Left hand injury|
|August 22, 2013||Jason Heyward||15-Day DL||Fractured right jaw|
|August 21, 2013||Brandon Beachy||15-Day DL||Right elbow inflammation|
|August 20, 2013||Justin Upton||Day-to-Day||Strained upper back|
|September 19, 2013||Welington Castillo||Day-to-Day||Knee|
|August 08, 2013||Matt Guerrier||60-Day DL||Right elbow soreness|
|August 08, 2013||Thomas Neal||60-Day DL||Dislocated right shoulder|
|August 07, 2013||Thomas Neal||Day-to-Day||Dislocated right shoulder|
|August 07, 2013||Dioner Navarro||Day-to-Day||Right ankle contusion|
|August 03, 2013||Luis Valbuena||15-Day DL||Right oblique strain|
CHICAGO (AP) -- Teams usually can't wait to get out of the cramped quarters of the visiting clubhouse at Wrigley Field. Not so the Atlanta Braves , who were delighted to put in some overtime in the less-than-friendly confines Friday night.
The Braves' 9-5 victory over the Chicago Cubs reduced their magic number to one and ensured them of at least a tie in the NL East.
The players decided to watch the game between the second-place Washington Nationals and Miami Marlins in the clubhouse to see if they would win the outright title - even though Nationals-Marlins wasn't slated to begin until an hour and a half after the Braves game ended.
"Some guys are going to stay here and some guys' families are here, so they're going to go spend some time with their families," closer Craig Kimbrel said. "We're all going to be back here around the end of the game."
The Nationals won 8-0 to keep the Braves from clinching.
When asked if it would be weird sticking around so late to watch the game in an empty ballpark, Kimbrel said: "No, we did it in 2010 with San Diego and San Francisco. It's actually, a lot of fun. Let's just hope the Marlins win."
If not, the Braves simply will look to take care of things during their next opportunity.
"This might be the best group of guys in terms of resiliency," manager Fredi Gonzalez said. "They battle. They're a talented group of guys - let's not forget that -but we've gone through some adversity at times, losing some key players earlier in the year and a leader on our pitching staff.
"It's a good group of guys; just a good team."
That all was on display Friday.
Chris Johnson went 3 for 4 with a home run, and the Braves broke open a tie game in the top of the ninth inning with four runs - all with two outs. Brian McCann and Johnson each had an RBI single, and Andrelton Simmons followed with a two-run double.
Freddie Freeman earlier hit a three-run homer for Atlanta, which jumped out to a 4-0 lead.
"We had a chance for some add-on runs earlier in the game," Gonzalez said. "We some opportunities and didn't do it; (McCann) popped up with runners on second and third (in the fifth inning). But that's how good this guy is. He comes back later in the ninth inning, facing a pretty good reliever in Kevin Gregg , and gets a base hit."
McCann made the most of his second chance.
"I was just glad to get a pitch to handle and not miss it," the catcher said.
Gregg (2-5) gave up all four ninth-inning runs, and that was just the start of his bad day.
Gregg had been told by manager Dale Sveum a couple of days ago that Cubs would take an occasional look at Pedro Strop in the closer's role, but Gregg took it to mean that he was no longer the closer and went on a rant against the front office after the game.
That prompted Cubs president Theo Epstein to get involved.
"Apparently Kevin misunderstood Dale and thought he'd had his job permanently taken away from him," Epstein said. "Despite getting the ball in the closer's role the past couple days, he apparently had some choice words. Upon hearing that I called him up to Dale's office to tell him how disappointed I was in him.
"I think it took him a couple minutes to understand that he'd misunderstood Dale and he ultimately apologized to me and Dale. I told him that I'd sleep on it and decide if we had any disciplinary action."
On the other side of Wrigley Field, the atmosphere was completely different as the Braves prepared for their postseason party.
"It's been a fun season," starter Paul Maholm said. "We started off real hot and built a big lead, we cooled off a bit, lost some people, but we were able to maintain that big lead.
"Hopefully, we'll go deep in their playoffs."
NOTES: The Braves activated OF Jason Heyward before the game. He wore a facemask attached to the right side of his batting helmet to protect the right jaw that was fractured Aug. 21 when he was struck by a pitch from the Mets' Jon Niese. "I'm just really excited and happy to be back," he said. "I'm not going to be as good today as I will be in five days, but you have to start the process sometime." As planned, Heyward played just five innings, going 0 for 2 with a walk. ... The Cubs announced before the game that C Welington Castillo has partially torn meniscus in his right knee and will miss the rest of the season. He will have arthroscopic surgery and the expected recovery time is 4 to 6 weeks. ... The series continues Saturday with Cubs LHP Travis Wood (9-11) going against RHP Kris Medlen (14-12).