Three Cuts: Celebration on hold as Braves fall to Cubs

BY foxsports • September 21, 2013

Once again, the champagne will have to wait.

Needing a win to secure a division title, the majors' best bullpen couldn't make Kris Medlen's gem stick as the Cubs scored three runs in the eight to sink the Braves 3-1.

The loss left them scoreboard-watching for the second straight night, but the weather in D.C. didn't cooperate as the Nationals and Marlins were postponed. That puts the Braves' bid for their first National League East crown since 2005 back in their hands as they can wrap things up at Wrigley Field on Sunday.

Here are three observations from Saturday's loss.

That last statement is no dig against Kris Medlen, but the old adage "it's not how you start, it's how you finish" may as well sum up his last two seasons.

Medlen (15-12) scattered six hits over seven-plus scoreless innings against the Cubs, striking out six with two walks and allowed just one base runner to get past second base.

It was the continuation of a hot run as Medlen put himself in position for a fifth straight win and in September, he's an impressive 4-0 with a 1.67 ERA. But it's really what we've come to expect from Medlen late in the year.

After yielding six hits in seven-plus scoreless innings, Kris Medlen has a 1.67 ERA in September.

Last season he of course had a 0.92 ERA in 78 2/3 innings and 8-0 record from August on and when you add it up with his performances post-August in 2013, Medlen is 15-2 with a 1.40 ERA.

He's by far the hottest member of the Braves rotation in the last two months of the season with Julio Teheran at 5-3 with a 3.33 ERA in that span, while Alex Wood is 2-1 with a 3.02 ERA, Mike Minor has a 4.53 ERA and 2-2 mark and Paul Maholm is at 1-1 and a 4.55 ERA.

Ace talk followed Medlen around in the offseason and after a lackluster start there was talk that he could have been headed to the bullpen -- though Tim Hudson's season-ending injury would bring an end to all that.

Medlen is again pitching like the anchor of the rotation that he was expected to be and it would be a major surprise if he wasn't starting in Game 1 of the postseason, an amazing turnaround for a guy who was 1-6 entering June.

The Braves' relievers are far and away the game's best, leading the majors in ERA (.242), saves (51), and have the lowest batting average against (.216). But in September, they haven't looked as dominant.

In 19 games this month the bullpen has yielded at least one run eight times and multiple runs on five occasions, including Saturday when Scott Downs allowed an RBI double to Anthony Rizzo and David Carpenter gave up a run-scoring single to Dioner Navarro and RBI sacrifice fly to Nate Schierholtz.

Carpenter is leading the way this month with a 0.87 ERA in September, while Luis Ayala is at 2.57, Luis Avilan is at 3.86, Craig Kimbrel -- who blew his fourth save of the season Tuesday in D.C. -- is at 4.26, Jordan Walden sits at 16.88 and Downs now has an 18.00 ERA.

In going 5 for 20 in three games against the Padres and three vs. the Nationals, Chris Johnson headed to Wrigley Field with his average at .327, the lowest it had been since Aug. 30 (.326).

But luckily for his NL batting title hopes, his chief competition, the Rockies' Michael Cuddyer, didn't pull away, going 3-for-14 before leading Wednesday's game with a right forearm contusion and his average at .331.

Cuddyer doesn't expect the Rockies to shut him down, but he hasn't played since being injured on that tumbling grab against the Cardinals and was not in the starting lineup Saturday.

Meanwhile, Johnson is heating up again. He went 2 for 4 Saturday after getting three hits in four at-bats Friday with a home run and two RBI, upping his average to .332.

If you're looking ahead, Johnson is hitless against the next three starters he's scheduled to face, though with small sample sizes. He's 0 for 2 vs. the Cubs' Edwin Jackson, 0 for 1 against the Brewers' Marco Estrada and has never faced Tyler Thornburg. He has plenty of experience against Wednesday's Milwaukee starter, Kyle Lohse, but has just two hits in 10 at-bats.