Following a stellar 16-game stretch, the Chicago Cubs find themselves in a bit of a slide.
With Jake Arrieta looking to continue his two-month run of success, the Cubs try to avoid a fourth consecutive defeat and add to the Atlanta Braves' misery on the road Thursday night.
Chicago (67-51) won 15 of 16 before it was cooled off with three consecutive losses. Cubs starters posted a 2.82 ERA and allowed nine home runs during that winning stretch but have a 13.06 ERA while matching that same homer total in the last three.
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"Those things happen," manager Joe Maddon said.
Jon Lester gave up seven runs on three homers in 2 2-3 innings of Wednesday's 15-8 loss to Detroit.
Three games ahead of San Francisco for the second wild-card spot in the NL, the Cubs publicly don't claim to be scoreboard watching.
"All we really care about is what we're doing," said rookie Kris Bryant, who went 4 for 4 Wednesday and is batting .355 with three homers and seven RBIs in nine games at Wrigley Field this month.
The Cubs should feel confident behind Arrieta (14-6, 2.39 ERA), who has allowed one home run while going 8-1 with a 1.35 ERA and held opponents to a .166 batting average over his last 11 starts. He won his third straight start Saturday, giving up three runs in 6 2-3 innings of a 6-3 victory over the White Sox.
"I could have been more efficient," said Arrieta, who could become the majors' first 15-game winner.
The right-hander had little trouble July 19, when he allowed three hits and struck out 10 over seven scoreless innings of a 4-1 victory at Atlanta.
The Braves (53-67) have averaged 2.4 runs and hit 13 homers during a 2-18 stretch on the road. They managed five runs while being swept in a three-game set at San Diego this week.
"It can't keep going like this forever," first baseman Freddie Freeman told MLB's official website after Atlanta dropped its fifth straight road contest, 3-2 on Wednesday.
Despite the Braves' road struggles, Nick Markakis had three hits with two RBIs on Wednesday and ranks among the major league leaders with a .324 batting average away from home. However, he's 1 for 24 with seven strikeouts in his last six games against Chicago overall.
Teammate A.J. Pierzynski is 7 for 11 with two homers against Arrieta.
Rookie Mike Foltynewicz (4-4, 5.61), who attended high school an hour southwest of Wrigley in Minooka, Ill., makes his first appearance against the Cubs looking to rebound after he allowed six runs and nine hits in 4 2-3 innings of an 8-4 defeat to Arizona on Saturday.
Though inconsistency has plagued the right-hander in 13 starts this season, manager Fredi Gonzalez sees promise.
"You see some good glimpses coming out of (Foltynewicz's arm)," Gonzalez said. "Now we've got to get the whole thing together - the pitches, the location, his pitchability and getting through innings."
He'll try to contain Kyle Schwarber, who can become the first Cubs rookie since 1914 to homer in four straight home games. Four of Schwarber's five hits in 11 at-bats in the last three home contests have left the park.