SERIES: National League Division Series, Game 1; Cubs lead 1-0.
They have already taken home-field advantage. Now they’ll look to take a giant step toward a playoff series victory.
Coming off their first postseason road win in 58 years, the Chicago Cubs look to move within a victory of the National League championship series as they face the Atlanta Braves in Game 2 of the division series.
The Cubs went to Atlanta, seemingly took thousands of their own fans with them, and beat the Braves 4-2 on Tuesday in the opener of the best-of-five series.
“It’s good to get that out of the way,” Cubs manager Dusty Baker said. “That’s a big, big, big game in a five-game series.”
It was Chicago’s first postseason road win since Game 3 of the 1945 World Series, as well as the first of three victories the Cubs need to win a postseason series for the first time since winning their last World Series title in 1908.
Chicago has lost 10 straight postseason series since, but Kerry Wood got the Cubs started on their quest to end that streak with a superb performance Tuesday. The right-hander allowed just two hits in 7 1-3 innings, and drove in the go-ahead runs with a two-run double in the sixth.
The victory allowed the Cubs to seize home-field advantage from the Braves, who finished with the NL’s best record. Then again, it didn’t seem like Atlanta had any advantage at Turner Field on Tuesday.
The Braves had their first postseason sellout in three years, but that was because many Cubs fans were among the crowd of 52,043. Wood said it sounded like “half and half.”
“I knew if they traveled from Chicago to Puerto Rico, they would go from Chicago to Atlanta,” Cubs manager Dusty Baker said.
The loss was exactly the kind of start the Braves were hoping to avoid. Ousted in the first round last year by the San Francisco Giants—who were managed by Baker—they are now two losses away from finishing without a World Series title for the 11th time in their run of 12 straight division titles.
“You know this can happen,” Braves closer John Smoltz said. “You can look at it like the glass is half-empty or half-full. We’ve won three out of four before.”
Mike Hampton will try to help Atlanta salvage a split of the games in Atlanta. He’ll need more help from a Braves team that had just three hits, struck out 14 times and left eight men on base Tuesday.
“No use beating yourself up over it,” Atlanta first baseman Robert Fick said. “We’ve got another chance here.”
Carlos Zambrano starts for the Cubs, who host Game 3 on Friday night.
HOW THEY GOT HERE: Cubs - NL Central champions. Braves - NL East champions.
PROJECTED LINEUPS: Cubs - CF Kenny Lofton (.296, 12 HRs, 46 RBIs, 30 steals for Pittsburgh and Chicago), 2B Mark Grudzielanek (.314, 3, 38), RF Sammy Sosa (.279, 40, 103, 143 Ks), LF Moises Alou (.280, 22, 91), 3B Aramis Ramirez (.272, 27, 106 for Pittsburgh and Chicago), 1B Eric Karros (.286, 12, 40), SS Alex Gonzalez (.228, 20, 59, 123 Ks), C Damian Miller (.233, 9, 36). Braves - SS Rafael Furcal (.292, 15, 61, 130 runs, 25 steals, 10 triples), 2B Marcus Giles (.316, 21, 69, 49 doubles), RF Gary Sheffield (.330, 39, 132), LF Chipper Jones (.305, 27, 106), CF Andruw Jones (.277, 36, 116, 125 Ks), C Javy Lopez (.328, 43, 109), 1B Fick (.269, 11, 80), 3B Vinny Castilla (.277, 22, 76).
CUBS PROBABLE STARTING PITCHER: Zambrano (13-11, 3.11 ERA). Zambrano will try to rebound from two straight poor outings to end the season. The right-hander was 0-1 with a 10.24 ERA in those games, but was 7-2 in his other 11 starts after the All-Star break. Zambrano yielded seven runs in five innings of a loss to Atlanta on July 13, but is 2-1 in three career starts against the Braves.
BRAVES PROBABLE STARTING PITCHER: Hampton (14-8, 3.84 ERA). Hampton bounced back from a pair of disappointing seasons in Colorado with a strong first campaign in Atlanta. The left-hander won 11 of his last 14 decisions. Hampton won his lone decision against the Cubs this season and is 8-4 with a 3.06 ERA lifetime against them. Hampton is 0-2 with a 5.87 ERA in four career division series games.
STREAKS AND NOTES: Cubs - OF Sosa is 13-for-29 (.448) lifetime against Hampton with six homers and 11 RBIs. … OF Alou was 2-for-5 Tuesday after hitting just .190 (8-for-42) in his three previous division series appearances. … Counting Tuesday’s win, Chicago finished 20-8 in September. Braves - OF Sheffield went 0-for-3 with a walk after going 1-for-16 last year in the division series. … 2B Giles, who homered for Atlanta’s first run, left the game after tumbling over first base while trying to beat out a grounder in the sixth. He will be re-evaluated Wednesday. … The Braves are 20-9 in division series play, but have been eliminated in the first round two of the last three years.