Report: Alex Cobb open to a potential deal with Cubs

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Free agent right-hander Alex Cobb is not expected to accept the Rays’ one-year, $17.4 million qualifying offer. That’s hardly surprising, given his relative health and productivity in a free agent market that isn’t exactly teeming with viable starting pitchers. On Friday, Cobb hinted at a potential landing spot for the upcoming year, telling MLB Network Radio that he’d be “very honored” to discuss a deal with the Cubs’ Joe Maddon and pitching coach Jim Hickey.

Hickey’s relationship with Cobb goes back through the 30-year-old’s entire six-year career in the bigs, and it certainly seems like he’d be willing to vouch for the starter. “I’d say, ‘Go ahead, good job, yeah I’m on board,” Hickey said in an interview Thursday. “He’s a 30-year-old pitcher who’s probably sat on the shelf […] flirting for three seasons. The usage is minimal for a 30-year-old type of pitcher. What he did with basically two pitches in the American League East last year was remarkable, incredible really.”

Maddon also saw Cobb pitch during the last few years of his managerial stint with the Rays, but familiarity isn’t the only factor in play here. The Cubs are positioning themselves for another run at the playoffs in 2018 and will need to bolster their rotation after losing both Jake Arrieta and John Lackey to free agency this offseason. There are a number of options they could pursue, including Cobb’s former teammate Chris Archer, but serious talks aren’t expected to begin until the GM Meetings next week.

On paper, at least, it appears to be a solid match. After missing nearly two seasons while recovering from Tommy John surgery, Cobb ran his 2017 campaign with a 12-10 record in 29 starts, complementing his efforts with a 3.66 ERA, 2.2 BB/9 and 6.4 SO/9 through 176 1/3 innings. He reinvented his arsenal, leaning more on his four-seamer and curveball than his signature split-changeup and posted his best totals since 2014. Whether or not the Cubs intend to facilitate a reunion has yet to be seen, but they’ll undoubtedly have competition for the righty’s services if they sit on it too long.

Swanson, Olson go deep vs Scherzer, Braves take NL East lead

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ATLANTA — Dansby Swanson and Matt Olson homered off Max Scherzer, lifting the Atlanta Braves to a crucial 4-2 victory Saturday night over the New York Mets and a one-game lead in the NL East.

The defending World Series champions beat aces Jacob deGrom and Scherzer on consecutive nights to take their biggest lead of the season in the division. New York, which held a 10 1/2-game cushion on June 1, faces its biggest deficit of the year with four games remaining.

Atlanta will try for a three-game sweep Sunday night, with the winner earning the season-series tiebreaker between the teams. Even though both teams are headed to the postseason, that’s important because the NL East champion gets a first-round bye in the playoffs.

Swanson’s 24th homer, a go-ahead, two-run shot in the fifth inning, touched off a frenzy among the sold-out crowd at Truist Park, the ball sailing a few rows up into the seats in left-center to make it 3-2. Olson hit his 32nd homer in the sixth, a solo shot into Chop House seats in right to put Atlanta up 4-2.

Austin Riley led off the fourth with a double and scored on Olson’s single to make it 1-all.

Kyle Wright (21-5) gave up two runs and seven hits with one walk and three strikeouts in five innings as he won his eighth straight decision. The Braves have won 16 of his last 17 starts.

New York went up 2-1 in the fifth when Pete Alonso, Francisco Lindor and Jeff McNeil hit consecutive two-out singles.

The Mets led 1-0 in the first when Brandon Nimmo singled, advanced on a walk and a single and scored on Eduardo Escobar‘s groundout. Wright, who threw 30 pitches in the first, stranded two runners in scoring position to prevent further damage.

Scherzer (11-5) allowed a first-inning single to Riley and a third-inning infield single to Ronald Acuna Jr., who advanced to third on a fielding error by Lindor at shortstop but was stranded when Michael Harris II lined out to center. Scherzer patted his glove and pumped his fist as he walked off the mound.

Scherzer was charged with nine hits and four runs with no walks and four strikeouts in 5 2/3 innings as the Mets were knocked out of first place for only the third day all season.

The Braves have won five of the last six against New York to tie the season series 9-all, outscoring the Mets 37-16 over that stretch.

Atlanta’s bullpen, which posted a 1.70 ERA in September, got a perfect inning from Dylan Lee in the sixth. Jesse Chavez faced four batters in the seventh, Raisel Iglesias faced the minimum in the eighth and closer Kenley Jansen pitched a perfect ninth for his NL-leading 39th save in 46 chances.

Since the Braves were a season low-tying four games under .500 at 23-27 after play on May 31, they have gone 76-32, tying the Los Angeles Dodgers for the best record in the majors over that span. They were a season-worst 10 1/2 games behind the first-place Mets on June 1.

Wright, the only 20-game winner in baseball this season, hasn’t officially become the first Braves pitcher to lead the league in wins outright since Russ Ortiz had 21 in 2003, but the Dodgers’ Julio Urias has 17 and can’t reach 20 before the regular season ends.

Wright will become the first Braves pitcher since Hall of Famer Tom Glavine in 2000 to lead the majors in wins. Houston ace Justin Verlander also has 17.

Wright began the game 1-4 with a 6.75 ERA in six career starts and one relief appearance against the Mets.

The Braves, who got homers from Riley, Olson and Swanson off deGrom on Friday, lead the NL with 240 homers.

TRAINER’S ROOM

Mets: All-Star RF Starling Marte (right middle finger fracture) has yet to begin swinging or throwing. Manager Buck Showalter said Marte is experiencing less pain but not enough to take the next step in his recovery. Marte has been sidelined since Sept. 7.

Braves: RHP Spencer Strider still has not thrown as he gets treatment on a sore left oblique. Manager Brian Snitker said there is no timetable for the rookie’s return. Strider has been sidelined since Sept. 21.

NICE GLOVE

Harris ran back and jumped to catch Nimmo’s fly against the wall in center field for the first out of the third.

UP NEXT

Mets RHP Chris Bassitt (15-8, 3.27 ERA) will face RHP Charlie Morton (9-6, 4.29) as the teams conclude a three-game series.