Braves-Cubs Preview

Although the Braves had some success against Chicago’s Matt

Garza in Atlanta earlier this month, the right-hander has been

extremely tough on opponents lately at Wrigley Field.

One bit of good news for the Braves, however, is that the Cubs

rarely win those games.

Atlanta looks to bounce back from its first loss in seven

contests Thursday when it faces Garza, who is coming off his first

home victory in nearly two months.

Chipper Jones and Alex Gonzalez each homered for the Braves

(78-53) on Wednesday against the Cubs, but the team managed just

one other hit – a Martin Prado single – in losing 3-2, snapping a

six-game winning streak.

“I don’t think this loss is going to stay with us very long,

especially the way we’ve been playing,” said losing pitcher Derek

Lowe.

Atlanta, which remained 6 1/2 games behind NL East-leading

Philadelphia, has only lost four of its last 17 games, but three of

those defeats have come to the Cubs (57-73).

Garza (6-9, 3.62 ERA) started one of those Chicago victories,

although he didn’t get credit for the decision.

In his first career outing against the Braves on Aug. 14, Garza

yielded four runs – two earned – and six hits in five innings of

Chicago’s 6-5 comeback win. Michael Bourn went 3 for 3 off Garza,

and is 7 for 14 against him in his career.

Dan Uggla was hitless in that game, ending his 33-game hitting

streak.

Following that outing, Garza allowed five hits and struck out

eight in seven innings of Saturday’s 3-0 win over St. Louis, his

first victory at Wrigley since June 27.

Despite that drought, the right-hander has been at his best

lately at the Friendly Confines. In six starts at Wrigley since

July 1, he has the majors’ third-best home ERA at 1.47, but a lack

of run support has left him with a 1-2 record with the Cubs losing

four times.

“He’s pitching better than his record indicates,” said red-hot

third baseman Aramis Ramirez.

Ramirez is batting .560 with four homers and 14 RBIs during a

season-high 13-game hitting streak, and has reached base in 30 of

his last 45 plate appearances. The Braves were careful pitching to

him Wednesday, walking him his first two times up.

Ramirez had two hits Aug. 14 against Brandon Beachy (6-2, 3.32),

who will oppose Garza again. Beachy permitted two runs and six hits

while striking out eight in 5 1-3 innings against the Cubs.

In his next start against Arizona on Saturday, the right-hander

gave up one run and four hits with seven strikeouts in six innings

of an 8-1 win. He is 3-0 with a 2.48 ERA in his last six starts,

striking out 39 in 36 1-3 innings.

Starlin Castro went 0 for 3 with two strikeouts against Beachy

en route to an 0-for-5 performance Aug. 14, but he has hit safely

in 20 of 22 games, batting .340 in that stretch.

Jones’ homer Wednesday was his 13th, and he is 11 for 23 with

three home runs during a six-game hitting streak.