Contreras salutes fans, helps Cubs win 6th in row, top Bucs

David Banks-USA TODAY Sports
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CHICAGO — Willson Contreras drew a standing ovation in perhaps his last home game at Wrigley Field, then keyed an early burst as the Chicago Cubs beat the Pittsburgh Pirates 4-2 Tuesday for their season-high sixth straight win.

Contreras, one of three members left from the 2016 World Series title team, tipped his cap after being cheered at the plate his first time up. He hit a soft single to center field in a three-run first inning off Bryse Wilson (1-6).

Contreras, an All-Star catcher who can become a free agent after this season, has acknowledged this might be his last homestand as a member of the Cubs before the Aug. 2 trade deadline. He saluted the fans with a fist in his last at-bat in the seventh but struck out against reliever Tyler Beede.

Representatives from the Blue Jays and White Sox were in attendance.

Seiya Suzuki, Ian Happ and Nico Hoerner hit consecutive doubles in the first to give Keegan Thompson (8-4) ample run support. Suzuki provided insurance with a homer in the eighth off reliever Will Crowe.

Thompson went a career-high seven innings.

Mychal Givens pitched the ninth to earn his second save. Closer David Robertson wasn’t used for the second consecutive game after earning a win and save Saturday and Sunday at Philadelphia.

The Cubs have (40-57) have their best winning streak since taking seven in a row last Aug. 31-Sept. 6.

The Pirates have lost four of five.

Thompson retired 16 of 18 batters before Hoerner committed a fielding error at shortstop with one out in the seventh, and 6-foot-7 rookie Oneil Cruz followed later with a two-run homer to center field.

Thompson completed the inning without further damage to top his previous high of 6 1/3 innings against the Reds on June 28.

Since the All-Star break, Cubs starters are 2-0 with a 2.03 ERA. Thompson has allowed two earned runs or fewer in five of his last seven starts.

After Hoerner’s double, Wilson retired 14 of the next 17 hitters.

THANKS FOR THE MEMORIES?

Cubs manager David Ross acknowledged that Contreras looked distracted during Monday’s game, in which he shed tears later after being asked to reflect on his seven seasons with the team.

“When he came up, he was a happy young man, lot of smiling, fitting in very easily, showing off the absolute cannon he had all the time,” Ross said of Contreras, who made his debut midway through the 2016 title season.

That was Ross’ final season as a player, and he recalled Contreras taking over his specific duties of catching veteran left-hander Jon Lester.

“It was a big deal when he caught Jon,” Ross said. “I know that was something he took pride in and probably learned a ton. I think you learn in the moment as much as I’ve noticed a growth in him in being able to read the game.”

UP NEXT

The Pirates will send RHP Zach Thompson (3-7, 4.64) when they open a four-game series Thursday against the Phillies.

The Cubs will start LHP Justin Steele (4-6, 4.02) in the first game of a four-game series Thursday against the Giants. Steele allowed one run in five innings in a 15-2 win Friday over the Phillies.

Braves sweep Mets, take 2-game lead in East with 3 remaining

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ATLANTA — Matt Olson knew the Atlanta Braves were too talented to stay in a season-long slump.

That’s why no one panicked when the New York Mets’ division lead swelled to double digits in May. Now the Braves are on the cusp of another NL East title.

“It’s a clubhouse full of guys who want to win,” Olson said. “That’s all it’s been since the moment I walked in. That’s No. 1 on the program.”

Dansby Swanson and Olson homered for the third straight game, Travis d'Arnaud hit a go-ahead two-run single in the third inning, and Braves beat New York 5-3 on Sunday night, completing a three-game sweep of their NL East rival and taking a two-game lead in the division with three games to play.

The defending World Series champion Braves have been chasing the Mets the entire season. In the final series of the season, any combination of one Atlanta win or one Mets loss would give the Braves their fifth straight division title.

New York plays its final three games of the season against worst-in-the-majors Washington. Atlanta closes out the regular season with a three-game set in Miami. Should the season end Wednesday in a tie, Atlanta would win the division after claiming the season series 10-9 with Sunday’s victory.

“We’ve felt this confidence since the beginning of the year,” d’Arnaud said. “It just didn’t go our way early in the year, but pulling on the same rope, having each others’ backs, not trying to do too much. We’re just trying to play the game of baseball and have fun with it.”

The Braves won five of the last six games in the series, outscoring the Mets 42-19 over that stretch. New York had a 10 1/2-game lead on June 1 but now is the lower in the standings than at any point this season.

It was a lost weekend for New York, which came to Atlanta hoping to clinch its first division title since 2015. Instead, aces Jacob deGrom and Max Scherzer lost Friday and Saturday before Chris Bassitt lasted just 2 2/3 innings on Sunday.

“We still have three games left in the regular season, we’re still going to the postseason, that doesn’t change, but there’s a lot of learning points that we can take from this series moving forward,” Mets slugger Pete Alonso said. “I thought we played well, but the Braves played better. They played excellent baseball this entire weekend.”

Swanson took Bassitt deep to right-center in the first with his 25th homer, and Atlanta took charge with a three-run third. Bassitt (15-9) issued a bases-loaded walk to Olson before d’Arnaud delivered a single up the middle to score Ronald Acuna Jr. and Austin Riley for a 4-3 lead. That chased Bassitt, who was charged with four runs, three hits and three walks.

Olson connected for his 33rd homer to make it 5-3 leading off the sixth, his 410-foot shot landing in the seats in right-center. Olson, in his first year with Atlanta, surpassed 100 RBIs for the second straight season.

“Everyone knew we were underperforming when we were flirting around that .500 range,” Olson said. “It was one of those things where it was trusting the talent we have and the guys in the clubhouse. Everybody was solid, head down, do your work, it’ll turn around and you wind up winning.”

Charlie Morton stranded runners on first and second in the first, but he gave up Daniel Vogelbach‘s 18th homer that tied it at 1 in the second. The righty struck out Francisco Lindor with runners on first and second to end the threat.

Jeff McNeil went deep off Morton in the third and Vogelbach followed with an RBI single to put the Mets up 3-1. Morton entered the game having allowed 28 homers, sixth-most in the NL.

Morton scuffled throughout his start, giving up three runs and nine hits in 4 1/3 innings as the 38-year-old made his first start since signing a $20 million, one-year contract to remain with Atlanta next season.

Dylan Lee (5-1) relieved Morton and pitched 1 1/3 innings, leaving after a walk to Brandon Nimmo with two outs in the sixth. Collin McHugh entered and struck out Francisco Lindor.

Raisel Iglesias faced four batters in the seventh, A.J. Minter faced the minimum in the eighth and closer Kenley Jansen converted his third save of the series with a clean ninth.

Jansen leads the NL with 40 saves in 47 chances.

The Braves’ bullpen, which posted a 1.70 ERA last month, pitched 8 2/3 scoreless innings the last two nights.

BIG NUMBERS

Atlanta leads the NL with 241 homers. And the Braves have their first 100-victory season since 2003.

TWO, DARN HOT

McNeil went 3 for 5 and has multiple hits in five straight games. His average is .326, one point behind the Dodgers’ Freddie Freeman for the NL batting title. In 23 career games at Truist Park, McNeil is hitting .395 with 12 runs, nine doubles, two homers, seven RBIs and four walks. … Jansen tied Hall of Famer Dennis Eckersley for eighth place on the career list with 389. He’s also is the 10th closer to have four different seasons with at least 40 saves.

TRAINER’S ROOM

Mets All-Star RF Starling Marte (right middle finger fracture) has yet to begin swinging or throwing. … Braves 2B Ozzie Albies (broken right pinky finger) is still wearing a cast. … Braves RHP Spencer Strider still has not thrown as he gets treatment on a sore left oblique.

ATTENDANCE

The Braves drew 42,713 in their regular season finale, the club’s 42nd sellout of the season. Overall. that’s 3,129,931 for the season – and the most tickets sold since 2000. In 2019, the team’s last full season before the COVID-19 pandemic, Atlanta drew 2,655,100.

UP NEXT

Mets: RHP Carlos Carrasco (15-7, 3.95 ERA) will face Nationals RHP Cory Abbott (0-4, 5.11).

Braves: RHP Bryce Elder (2-3, 2.76 ERA) will face Marlins LHP Jesus Luzardo (3-7, 3.53).