Atlanta Braves' Brian McCann celebrates hitting a RBI single while playing the Chicago Cubs during the ninth inning of their MLB National League baseball game in Chicago

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.

The Cubs will soon announce a five-year contract extension for Theo Epstein

CHICAGO, IL - JULY 27: Theo Epstein (R), President of Operations for the Chicago Cubs, talks with head football coach Jim Harbaugh of the University of Michigan before the game between the Chicago White Sox and the Chicago Cubs at Wrigley Field on July 27, 2016 in Chicago, Illinois.  (Photo by Jon Durr/Getty Images)
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Carrie Muskat of MLB.com just tweeted that the Cubs will soon announce a five-year contract extension for president Theo Epstein. Bob Nightengale of USA Today reports that it’s worth in excess of $50 million.

He’s earned it. When he took over the Cubs in October, 2011 the Cubs were a last place team with an aging roster and a front office that was several years behind the state of the art in every conceivable way. Last year the Cubs made the playoffs and this year they are baseball’s best team by a large margin and the franchise looks poised to continue its success for some time.

So, yeah, I’d say locking Theo up is a good idea.

What’s on Tap: Previewing Wednesday’s action

BALTIMORE, MD - SEPTEMBER 21:  Starting pitcher Clay Buchholz #11 of the Boston Red Sox throws to a Baltimore Orioles batter in the first inning at Oriole Park at Camden Yards on September 21, 2016 in Baltimore, Maryland.  (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)
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The Red Sox will once again attempt to clinch the AL East after failing to do so on Tuesday night. They can seal the division with a win against the Yankees or a Blue Jays loss to the Orioles on Wednesday evening.

Clay Buchholz will take the hill for the BoSox against Yankees right-hander Bryan Mitchell in a 7:05 PM EDT start at Yankee Stadium. Buchholz hasn’t exactly been Mr. Reliable this season, holding a 5.00 ERA with an 87/53 K/BB ratio in 133 1/3 innings. However, he has been in three of four starts since returning to the rotation earlier this month. Over those four starts, he owns a 3.97 ERA and a 15/8 K/BB ratio in 22 2/3 innings.

Meanwhile, at the Rogers Centre, the Jays will send out Francisco Liriano against the Orioles’ Chris Tillman in a 7:07 PM EDT start. Liriano has been much improved since coming to the Jays from the Pirates, so the Orioles will have their hands full.

As for Wild Card action, the Royals can be eliminated if they lose to the Twins or if the Orioles beat the Jays. The Yankees can be eliminated by losing to the Red Sox and the Orioles defeating the Jays. In the National League, the Marlins can be eliminated by losing to the Mets or the Giants beating the Rockies.

The rest of Wednesday’s action…

Arizona Diamondbacks (Shelby Miller) @ Washington Nationals (Gio Gonzalez), 7:05 PM EDT

Boston Red Sox (Clay Buchholz) @ New York Yankees (Bryan Mitchell), 7:05 PM EDT

Chicago Cubs (Jake Arrieta) @ Pittsburgh Pirates (Jameson Taillon), 7:05 PM EDT

Baltimore Orioles (Chris Tillman) @ Toronto Blue Jays (Francisco Liriano), 7:07 PM EDT

Cleveland Indians (Zach McAllister) @ Detroit Tigers (Michael Fulmer), 7:10 PM EDT

New York Mets (Seth Lugo) @ Miami Marlins (Jose Urena), 7:10 PM EDT

Philadelphia Phillies (Adam Morgan) @ Atlanta Braves (Mike Foltynewicz), 7:10 PM EDT

Minnesota Twins (Ervin Santana) @ Kansas City Royals (Jason Vargas), 7:15 PM EDT

Milwaukee Brewers (Chase Anderson) @ Texas Rangers (Cole Hamels), 8:05 PM EDT

Tampa Bay Rays (Blake Snell) @ Chicago White Sox (Miguel Gonzalez), 8:10 PM EDT

Cincinnati Reds (Anthony DeSclafani) @ St. Louis Cardinals (Mike Leake), 8:15 PM EDT

Oakland Athletics (Sonny Gray) @ Los Angeles Angels (Alex Meyer), 10:05 PM EDT

Los Angeles Dodgers (Jose De Leon) @ San Diego Padres (Luis Perdomo), 10:10 PM EDT

Colorado Rockies (Tyler Chatwood) @ San Francisco Giants (Jeff Samardzija), 10:15 PM EDT