Braves run past Cubs behind Davies
Atlanta pounds out season-high 20 hits in Chicago opener
CHICAGO -- If the Braves are going to return to the postseason this year, they'll obviously need to avoid repeating the same sort of June that absolutely destroyed them last year. One day into the new month, they've provided indication there won't be a repeat.
A few hours after learning they'll be spending at least another week without Chipper Jones' bat in the lineup, the Braves' offense came alive against a struggling Cubs bunch that is now literally fighting themselves through a rough skid.
While contributing three of his team's season-high 20 hits and providing seven solid innings on the mound at Wrigley Field on Friday afternoon, Kyle Davies led the Braves to an 8-5 victory that simply improved what has been a rejuvenating road trip.
"Hopefully, we can continue to hit like this," said Jeff Francoeur, who sparked the decisive five-run fifth with a two-run double off Carlos Zambrano. "You know it's important to score runs like we did today. Even though they made it interesting at the end, I still felt like we had control of the game the whole day."
The Cubs, who have lost a season-high five straight and nine of their last 11, did make things somewhat interesting with a three-run eighth against Peter Moylan. But even when Jacque Jones hit a one-out solo homer in the ninth off Bob Wickman, there still wasn't much reason to worry for the Braves, who have won three of four since ending being swept by the Phillies to end last week's homestand.
"Everything we touched seemed like it found a hole all day long," said Braves manager Bobby Cox, whose team's season-high hit total was fueled by the three-hit performances supplied by Davies, Kelly Johnson, Willie Harris and Edgar Renteria.
Last year, the Braves began a forgettable six-win June with five straight losses. This year, they began the season's third month by learning Jones' bruised right hand will force him to spend at least the next week on the disabled list. But that didn't seem to provide a crippling worry while they were knocking Cubs starter Carlos Zambrano around for six earned runs and 13 hits in just five innings.
Zambrano, who is struggling while heading into free agency, did his own knocking around in the clubhouse, where he punched his catcher, Michael Barrett, in the lip. The frustrations between the two were evident when they pushed each other in the dugout immediately after the Braves had completed their five-run fifth.
Davies, who limited the Cubs to one run and six hits over seven innings, contributed to the fifth-inning uprising with an RBI double. He also added a fortunate-hop single in the fourth and broken-bat single in the seventh to become the first Braves pitcher since Terry Mulholland in 2000 to have three hits in a game.
"Maybe that's what I've got to do, just dump them in there or something," said Davies, whose only other two hits since the beginning of last year were homers.
While the offense stole most of the highlights, the pitching performance provided by Davies may have been the day's most encouraging development for the Braves. Just five days ago in Atlanta, the 23-year-old right-hander had stopped an impressive run by allowing the Phillies eight earned runs in just 4 1/3 innings.
Over the course of the past week, Davies worked on regaining command of his fastball with pitching coach Roger McDowell. While throwing 68 of his 107 pitches for strikes, he displayed the control that had helped him allow just four earned runs in the 19 2/3 innings that preceded last weekend's start against the Phillies.
"He's been throwing great," Cox said. "You can't say enough about the work that Roger has done with him. He's on top of his game. He's got pitches, and he can throw them all in just about every count right now."
Davies' only blemish came courtesy of the fact that Derrek Lee hit his first pitch of the fourth inning over the wall in left-center. But by that time the Braves had already given him a two-run lead courtesy of Brian McCann's first-inning RBI single and Matt Murton's two-out error on a Johnson fly ball to shallow right in the fourth.
The Braves blew things open in the fifth, which began with Renteria drawing a walk. Zambrano faced nine batters in the frame, and the only batter he retired before the five runs had scored was when Andruw Jones lined out sharply to third base. The second out of the inning came when Francoeur was retired trying to score from second base on a Pete Orr single.
"I don't think there's any reason we can't get on a roll here and start winning like we were earlier in the season, when we won a bunch of games in a row," Francoeur said.
At no point during June last year were the Braves able to utter this type of confident statement.
Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.