Braves score four times in ninth to lower magic number to 1

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The Braves busted open a 5-5 game with four runs in the ninth to beat the Cubs 9-5 on Friday and clinch at least a tie in the NL East with the Nationals scheduled to play later tonight.

All four runs in the ninth came after Freddie Freeman was intentionally walked by Kevin Gregg to set up a double play. But that wasn’t the curious decision from Dale Sveum. The real mystery is why Blake Parker and Pedro Strop were both removed from the game after retiring two batters apiece. Parker got the final out of the seventh and first of the eighth, then was lifted after nine pitches. Strop came in and threw eight pitches to finish the eighth, then was taken out before the ninth even though his spot in the order never came up.

While Gregg has closed most of the year, Parker and Strop have been the Cubs’ best right-handed relievers. Strop’s quick hook might have been explained by the fact that he pitched yesterday, but if that’s an issue, why use him at all in a game that’s pretty meaningless for the Cubs? Parker didn’t pitch Thursday, and there’s no reason he couldn’t have gotten all four outs himself. It’s especially baffling given that Sveum said earlier this week that Strop was now the closer. So, not only was the new closer used in a tie game today, but since he’s now pitched two days in a row, he probably won’t be available for a save chance on Saturday.

OK, back to the Braves. Chris Johnson and Freeman both homered off Scott Baker in this one. Johnson collected three hits in all, raising his average to .3306. He’s barely behind Michael Cuddyer at .3311 for the NL lead. Jason Heyward went 0-for-2 with a walk and a run scored in his return from a broken jaw. As scripted, he was removed from the game after five innings. He’ll sit tomorrow and start again Sunday. Dan Uggla went 0-for-3 with a couple of walks, but he nearly homered in a second straight game, barely pulling a ball foul off Gregg in the ninth.

The Braves will clinch the NL East if the Marlins beat the Nationals this evening. Otherwise, they can do it with another victory over the Cubs tomorrow.

Joe Maddon: “I have a defensive foot fetish.”

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The Cubs’ defense — or lack thereof this year — has been a topic of conversation as it could help explain why the team hasn’t played at the elite level it played at last year.

Manager Joe Maddon tried to go into detail about that but ended up channeling his inner Rex Ryan. Via CSN Chicago’s Patrick Mooney.

Well then.

The Nationals have scored 62 runs during four Joe Ross starts

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If, in the future, Joe Ross ever complains about a lack of run support, point to his first four starts of the 2017 season.

Ross started on April 19 in Atlanta against the Braves, on April 25 in Colorado against the Rockies, on April 30 at home against the Mets, and on May 23 at home against the Mariners. In those games, the Nats’ offense scored 14, 15, 23, and 10 runs respectively for a total of 62 runs, or an average of 15.5 per start. Ross was the pitcher of record for seven, eight, 10, and 10 runs for a total of 35 runs (8.75 runs per start), which would still make him the major league leader in run support by that restrictive standard.

Among qualified starters — Ross did not qualify — entering Tuesday’s action, the Rockies’ Antonio Senzatela led the way according to ESPN, averaging 7.11 runs of support in nine starts. The Rockies scored double-digit runs in only three of those starts, oddly enough.

Per the Nationals, the 62 runs of support for Ross is a major league record in a pitcher’s first four starts of a season.