Home runs help Cubs sink Braves

Chicago Cubs 5, Atlanta Braves 1

ATLANTA — The Atlanta Braves are falling deeper behind NL East leader Washington, thanks in part to their difficulties against the Cubs, the last-place team in the NL Central.

Bryan LaHair, Jeff Baker and Anthony Rizzo hit home runs, Paul Maholm threw six strong innings and Chicago continued its success against Atlanta by beating the Braves 5-1 on Wednesday night.

The Cubs have won two of the first three games in the four-game series after winning two of three in Chicago on May 7-9.

The Braves, third in the NL East, fell six games behind the first-place Washington Nationals.

“Sometimes, man, you meet a team that’s playing good baseball,” said Atlanta’s Michael Bourn, who had three hits. “That’s what’s happening right now. (The Cubs) were earning it. Hey, we lost.”

Starter Randall Delgado and relievers Jonny Venters and Anthony Varvaro gave up the homers.

Delgado (4-9) allowed three runs on seven hits and two walks in six-plus innings. Delgado has lost four consecutive decisions but the bigger concern is Venters.

Venters has allowed six homers in 32 innings this season after giving up only three in 171 innings in 2010 and 2011 combined. Venters’ ERA is 4.45 and he no longer serves as closer Craig Kimbrel’s primary setup man.

Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez said solving Venters’ slump is crucial to the team’s second-half hopes.

Gonzalez said Venters doesn’t have to be as dominant as in 2011, when he had six wins, nine saves and a 1.84 ERA as one of the top relievers in the majors.

“If we don’t get him right – and I’m not talking about last-year right – we’re going to be up against it,” Gonzalez said.

SHEETS SOLID IN FIRST OUTING

PEARL, Miss. — Ben Sheets gave up four runs in five innings for the Double-A Mississippi Braves in his first professional appearance in nearly two years.

The veteran right-hander gave up two runs in both the first and second innings, but settled down after that, retiring 10 in a row to end his outing. He struck out six and walked one.

The Braves hope the four-time All-Star can bolster their starting rotation in the coming weeks. He threw 74 pitches, including 46 strikes on Wednesday. His fastball was clocked at around 90 mph most of the evening.

– Associated Press


TODAY’S GAME

WHO: Chicago (Matt Garza, 4-6, 4.01) at Atlanta (Mike Minor, 4-6, 6.20)

TIME/TV: 7:10 p.m./SportSouth

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