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Monday, July 2, 2012
Rapid Reaction: Cubs 4, Braves 1

By Doug Padilla



ATLANTA -- The Chicago Cubs won the series opener at Atlanta on Monday, beating the Braves 4-1 for their sixth victory in their last seven games.

How it happened: Jeff Samardzija rebounded from a string of poor starts to give up just one run on four hits over seven innings with 11 strikeouts. The Cubs got on the board first when Anthony Rizzo crushed a solo home run to center field in the fourth inning, his second since joining the team last Tuesday. Luis Valbuena delivered the big blow, though, with a bases-clearing three-run triple in the seventh inning to give the Cubs the lead for good.

What it means: Ptiching with what seemed to be a renewed sense of purpose, Samardzija had a new career-best in strikeouts by the sixth inning when he got Jason Heyward swinging for his 10th of the night. He wasn’t finished. After he had given up 25 earned runs over his last four starts, all that optimism of Samardzija becoming a starter seemed lost, or at least stalled. The right-hander renewed it again, holding the Braves to an infield single through the first five innings.

Outside the box: Make that 13 RBIs and counting for Luis Valbuena in just 17 games since being recalled from Triple-A Iowa. That’s just four fewer RBIs than Opening Day third baseman Ian Stewart had in 53 games. Valbuena might not be at the same level defensively as Stewart, but his run production has helped breathe some life into what had been an extremely stagnant offense.

Off beat: The latest Starlin Castro mental lapse might not be as bad as it seemed. Castro hesitated after a fielding a ground ball from Dan Uggla, holding it so long that Uggla was eventually safe at first base. The culprit? It appeared that because Rizzo was stationed far away from the first-base bag on the shift, Castro had to wait to make the throw. Manager Dale Sveum talked to Castro and Rizzo after the half inning.

Up next: The Cubs will welcome back right-hander Chris Volstad (0-6, 7.46 ERA) in Tuesday’s second game of the four-game series. The Braves will counter with right-hander Jair Jurrjens (1-2, 6.07) in the 6:10 p.m. CST start from Turner Field.