A seven-game suspension last month seems to have down wonders for Sammy Sosa.
Sosa homered to start a six-run rally in the fourth inning, and Matt Clement pitched eight strong innings as the Cubs ended Atlanta’s eight-game winning streak with a 7-3 victory Saturday.
Since serving a seven-game suspension from June 11-17 for using a corked bat, Sosa is batting .344 (32-for-93) with 12 home runs and 23 RBIs in 24 games. He had just seven homers and 27 RBIs in his first 45 games this season.
“My numbers are not quite there yet,” Sosa said. “I’m starting to feel more comfortable now.”
Sosa’s hot streak, however, hasn’t helped the Cubs in the standings. Saturday’s victory was just Chicago’s eighth in 23 games, but did prevent it from falling below .500 for the first time this season.
A season-ending knee injury to center fielder Corey Patterson has left a void in Chicago’s lineup, both offensive and defensively. Infielder Jose Hernandez started in center field Saturday—his first appearance in the outfield since July 7, 2001.
Atlanta had its longest win streak in three years snapped, as rookie Horacio Ramirez allowed seven runs and nine hits in 3 2-3 innings.
Braves All-Star second baseman Marcus Giles sat out after sustaining a concussion Friday in a collision with Cubs pitcher Mark Prior. Giles will not play Sunday and could miss the All-Star Game on Tuesday.
“If I’m not well enough to play in a regular season game, where it matters, the All-Star game is just a bonus,” said Giles, elected as a starter for the National League.
Braves slugger Gary Sheffield returned to the lineup after missing Friday’s game with a swollen thumb, but was 0-for-4.
Regardless of Sunday’s outcome, Atlanta will own the best record in the majors at the All-Star break.
STANDINGS: Braves - 1st place, NL East. Cubs - 3rd place, 2 GB, NL Central.
BRAVES PROBABLE STARTER: Shane Reynolds (6-4, 5.83 ERA). The veteran right-hander rebounded from four straight disappointing starts with a strong showing Tuesday in a 5-3 victory over the New York Mets. Reynolds allowed two runs and eight hits over six innings in the win after yielding 16 runs and 24 hits in his previous 15 innings. He is 14-6 with a 3.41 ERA in 28 career games against Chicago.
CUBS PROBABLE STARTER: Carlos Zambrano (6-7, 3.19 ERA). Zambrano is coming off one of his best outings of the season, scattering seven hits over six scoreless innings Tuesday in Chicago’s 4-3 loss to Florida. Zambrano has been a much better pitcher this season at Wrigley Field, where he is 3-3 with a 2.85 ERA in nine starts, compared to 3-4 with a 3.56 ERA in nine road starts. The right-hander is 2-0 with a 1.50 ERA in two career starts against Atlanta.
OFFENSIVE LEADERS: Braves - Sheffield, .328 avg. and 70 RBIs; Javy Lopez and Andruw Jones, 23 HRs; Sheffield and Rafael Furcal, 72 runs; Furcal, 14 SBs. Cubs - Sosa, .310 avg., 18 HRs and 52 runs; Moises Alou, 56 RBIs; Tom Goodwin, 18 SBs.
SEASON SERIES: Braves, 2-1.
STREAKS AND NOTES: Braves - Atlanta’s bullpen has allowed just two earned runs in 27 1-3 innings over the past 11 games. … SS Furcal and C Lopez are a combined 0-for-11 against RHP Zambrano. … 3B Vinny Castilla is 8-for-11 with two home runs and eight RBIs in the first three games of this series. Cubs - RHP Antonio Alfonseca has given up 15 runs in 7 2-3 innings in his last eight games. In his previous 13 appearances, he had allowed just two runs in 13 innings. … OF Hernandez is 4-for-30 (.133) with 11 strikeouts lifetime against RHP Reynolds. … With 517 career homers, RF Sosa is four shy of Willie McCovey and Ted Williams for 12th on the career list.
ROAD/HOME RECORDS: Braves- 30-19 on the road. Cubs - 24-24 at home.
INJURIES: Braves - 2B Giles (concussion), day-to-day; RHP Paul Byrd (elbow), 15-day DL. Cubs - OF Corey Patterson (knee), 15-day DL; RHP Scott Chiasson (elbow), 60-day DL; LHP Will Ohman (elbow), 60-day DL.