After busting out the bats once again on Friday afternoon, the Atlanta Braves (70-37) now look to take the first two games of their weekend series with the Chicago Cubs (56-54) at Wrigley Field. First pitch of Saturday’s matinee is set for 2:20 p.m. ET. Rookie Bryce Elder (8-2, 3.18 ERA) gets the ball for the visitors, while Javier Assad (1-2, 3.14) will start for Chicago in place of the injured Marcus Stroman.
After a little swoon to start the second half, the Braves are roaring again, having won three in a row and seven of their last 10 to become MLB’s first team to hit 70 wins. Their swing through the NL Central will continue next week with a four-game set against the Pittsburgh Pirates.
A second-half hot streak got the Cubs back into the thick of the NL Central and NL Wild Card races (and convinced GM Jed Hoyer to sell rather than buy at the trade deadline). Chicago is just two games back of the Reds for the third and final Wild Card spot and 2.5 games back of the Brewers for the division lead. They’ll head east next week to kick off a series against the Mets.
Atlanta enters as -148 favorites on the moneyline at DraftKings Sportsbook, with the Cubs coming in as +124. The run total is set at 10.5.
Braves-Cubs picks: Saturday, August 5
Out: OF Sam Hilliard (heel)
Out: SP Marcus Stroman (hip)
Bryce Elder vs. Javier Assad
Elder hit a rough pitch earlier this summer, but the Braves’ star rookie has bounced back over his last couple of starts, allowing just three runs on eight hits across 13 innings in a pair of outings against the Brewers. The righty doesn’t have much swing and miss to his game, instead relying on his command of his sinker, slider and changeup to force lots of ground-ball outs. It’s a profile that’s pretty dependent on good batted-ball luck to get by, and we’ve seen what can happen when he’s off — 14 runs across two starts on either side of the All-Star break — but he’s found a way to make it work for the most part.
With Stroman on the injured list, it’ll be reliever-turned-long man Assad getting the call on Saturday. He’s only made one other start this season, but he should be able to provide at least some length — he threw 3.2 one-hit innings in his last appearance against Cincinnati, and went four full innings against the Cardinals a couple of weeks ago. The righty had a sensational July, unscored upon in seven of eight appearances with a 0.47 ERA and just seven hits allowed over 19.1 innings.
This is a big number, but Wrigley Field in the middle of summer can be as hitter-friendly a park as there is this side of Coors Field — just look at the eight-spot Atlanta put up on Friday, or the 36 runs the Cubs scored over a two-game span earlier this week. The Braves have hit this total in five of their last seven games, and I don’t trust Elder’s skills enough to think that he can keep Chicago off the board the way he’d need to for this under to hit.
Pick: Over 10.5
It’s just awfully hard to trust Assad and the Cubs’ bullpen to hold up over nine innings against Atlanta’s Death Star of a lineup. Eventually, the dam will break, and I think Elder does just enough to let his bats back him to a victory.