The Braves have won 13 of their last 17 games and completed a three-game sweep of the Arizona Diamondbacks with Sunday's 1-0 triumph behind seven shutout innings from winning pitcher Tim Hudson and Alex Gonzalez's solo home run in the bottom of the third inning. Hudson struck out seven and walked three batters for his 13th win of the season (13-7), while Jonny Venters tossed a scoreless eighth and All-Star closer Craig Kimbrel nailed down his major league-leading 39th save with three strikeouts in the ninth inning.
Kimbrel is one save shy of Neftali Feliz's rookie save record, which was established last season.
"Like I've been saying the whole time, if it wasn't for the team and the team wasn't playing good, I wouldn't have a chance to do it. It's as much a team thing as it is a personal thing," Kimbrel said about edging closer to the record.
Atlanta leads the NL Wild Card by eight games ahead of San Francisco and pulled within 6 1/2 games of Philadelphia for the top spot in the NL East standings. It went 7-3 on a 10-game homestand and will now visit the Cubs and Mets on this upcoming road trip. The Braves have won four in a row as the guest.
Jair Jurrjens will handle pitching duties for the Braves tonight and he's just 0-2 with a 6.52 earned run average in his last five starts. Jurrjens has dropped back-to-back trips to the hill and was last in action during Wednesday's 7-5 loss to the Giants in which he allowed five runs and eight hits in six innings. Jurrjens fell to 12-5 in 21 starts and raised his ERA to 2.84. It was his first start since coming off of the disabled list.
Jurrjens, who is 5-3 in 10 road starts this season, will make his fourth career start against the Cubs tonight. The right-hander is 0-1 with a 3.50 ERA through the first three encounters.
Chicago will continue a seven-game homestand Monday and failed in its attempt for a three-game sweep of St. Louis with Sunday's 6-2 setback. Aramis Ramirez ended with a team-best two hits and drove in the club's only two runs. Ramirez is riding a nine-game hitting streak, batting .487 over that span.
Rodrigo Lopez pitched the first 5 1/3 innings for the Cubs and was dealt the loss for permitting five runs and 10 hits, including four home runs. The Cubs were outhit by a 14-7 margin and have been dealing with the recent firing of general manager Jim Hendry. They have lost three of five games overall and had a four-game home winning streak come to an end.
"Two were bad pitches -- the first one to [Yadier] Molina and the one to [Albert] Pujols," Lopez said. "The other two, I threw my pitch where I wanted. The wind blowing out helped those balls. That was the game. I give up four homers -- three solos -- and that turned the whole game, especially in the sixth when we were one run behind. Everything changed after that."
Ryan Dempster draws the start for the Cubs tonight and he's 3-0 with a 2.77 ERA in four starts. Dempster did not record a decision in last Tuesday's 6-5 loss at Houston and was reached for just a pair of runs and four hits in seven innings. He struck out seven batters and is 10-8 with a 4.61 ERA in 26 starts.
Dempster, a right-hander, is 6-5 in 14 home starts this season and hasn't fared to well against Atlanta in his career. He is 2-11 with a 4.76 earned run average in 28 matchups (17 starts) with the Braves.
Chicago recently won two of three meetings in Atlanta from Aug. 12-14.