Cubs' Lester hopes to reign over Braves


ATLANTA -- Chicago Cubs left-hander Jon Lester has made 356 career starts. Atlanta Braves right-hander Mike Soroka has made three.

The 34-year-old veteran and the 20-year-old rookie will oppose each other Thursday night at SunTrust Park as the Cubs and Braves conclude a three-game series and four games in a row against each other because of Monday's makeup game in Chicago.

The Braves (26-16) held first place in the National League East with a 4-1 victory Wednesday thanks to a three-run eighth inning after the Cubs (22-18) had scored twice in the ninth for a comeback 3-2 win the previous night.

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Wednesday's victory snapped a four-game home losing streak for the Braves, who are 9-8 in Atlanta compared to an NL-best 17-8 on the road after Monday's 6-5 victory at Chicago.

Lester (3-1, 2.66 ERA) has allowed one earned run or fewer in half of his eight starts and is coming off a 5 2/3-inning outing in a victory over the Chicago White Sox in which he gave up four hits and a run.

The resident of suburban Atlanta has often been at his best against the Braves, going 6-2 with a 2.47 ERA in nine games, including eight quality starts, and has a 1.82 ERA in his last five outings this season.

First baseman Freddie Freeman, though, has had his share of success against Lester, batting .300 in 20 at-bats with two home runs, and third baseman Jose Bautista has taken the winner of 162 games deep five times in 61 at-bats.

Lester's start against the White Sox was delayed more than two hours because of rain, and his previous outing against the Cardinals was twice interrupted by rain.

Rain is in the Atlanta forecast for Thursday, making Lester possibly prophetic.

"Can we just not get any rain one time?" he said after beating the White Sox. "I'm sure in Atlanta it'll rain again, we'll have another delay and it'll be three in a row."

Soroka, a first-round draft choice by the Braves in 2016, won his debut May 1 after being promoted from Triple-A Gwinnett, limiting the Mets in New York to six hits and a run over six innings while striking out five and walking none.

The native of Canada didn't make it to the sixth inning in either of his next two starts, though, and is 1-1 with a 3.68 ERA after being victimized by a two-out error in the fifth inning of his most recent start.

The Braves have the three youngest players in the majors in 20-year-old Soroka, 20-year-old left fielder Ronald Acuna Jr. and 21-year-old second baseman Ozzie Albies.

"It's what we've been working towards here," manager Brian Snitker said of the infusion of youth and energy in Atlanta as the Braves farm system bears fruit. "Been hearing about these guys, now you finally get them up here and it's exciting, it's fun. It's energizing for everybody to have the young guys. And they're all (doing it right) -- how they carry themselves, how they go about it. It gives you a lot of confidence and it's a good feeling to have them young guys."

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