The Atlanta Braves just ended their longest losing streak since late May, but they could have a difficult time getting their still-scuffling offense on track against one of baseball's hottest pitchers.
After moving back into a virtual tie for the NL East lead, the visiting Braves will have to contend with Jake Arrieta as they go for their 10th win in 11 meetings with the Chicago Cubs on Friday.Andrelton Simmons, Freddie Freeman and Ramiro Pena had two hits apiece Thursday in Atlanta's 3-1 road win over the New York Mets.The Braves (50-42) snapped a four-game skid while moving within one percentage point of Washington for the division lead."This was only a four-game losing streak, but you never want to come into a place and get swept in four games," Freeman told MLB's official website. "Even though we still lost the series, it could have been a lot worse."Atlanta, though, still has issues to sort out offensively after putting up three runs or less in a fifth straight contest. The Braves have totaled 11 runs over that stretch while hitting .130 with runners in scoring position. They have no homers in that span and only one in their last 11 games.They're likely to have a tough time improving against Arrieta (5-1, 1.78 ERA).The right-hander has taken over as Chicago's ace following the trade of opening day starter Jeff Samardzija to Oakland last weekend. He's certainly pitched like one since June 8, going 4-0 in six starts with a .131 opponent batting average that tops the majors and an 0.89 ERA that ranks third."I was the guy in college and enjoyed that role," Arrieta said. "The college game is completely different, and the season is structured a completely different way, but I still understand that role."Arrieta did not factor in the decision in Sunday's 2-1 loss at Washington, allowing one run over six innings. He's been outstanding at Wrigley Field, going 1-0 with a 1.17 ERA in four outings.His only career start against the Braves came on the road in 2011, when he allowed five runs over five innings in a 5-4 loss while with Baltimore.Chris Johnson went 7 for 11 versus Chicago (39-52) in Atlanta's three-game home sweep in May. But he's gone 3 for 24 with 10 strikeouts over his last six games and sat in favor of Pena on Thursday.The NL Central-worst Cubs snapped a season-high six-game losing streak in Thursday's 6-4, 12-inning victory in Cincinnati, avoiding a five-game sweep.After going hitless in his major league debut, Arismendy Alcantara went 4 for 5 with a triple, double and three RBIs. Starlin Castro had two hits after going 2 for 20 in his previous five games.The Cubs have averaged 2.4 runs while going 1-9 versus Atlanta dating to the 2012 season. They totaled four runs and batted .196 in their May series at Turner Field.They'll try to reverse that trend against Alex Wood (6-7, 3.14), who has pitched well since rejoining the rotation following an injury to Gavin Floyd last month.The left-hander has a 2.25 ERA in those three outings after surrendering two runs and three hits over seven innings in Sunday's 3-1 home loss to Arizona. He's 3-6 with a 2.77 ERA in 10 starts this season.Wood makes his first career start versus the Cubs, though he's worked two scoreless innings of relief against them in 2014.
Jake Arrieta has increased his slider usage to 14 percent since June 1, up from 4.6 percent through May 31. Justin Upton is hitting just .135 this season in at-bats to end in a slider from a righty, 146 of 161 qualified hitters.