The Atlanta Braves headed to Wrigley Field to face the Cubs for the first time in 2023. This is the first time the team would get a look at former Atlanta shortstop Dansby Swanson with his new club. He would get the opportunity to face his former teammate, Max Fried, who made his first start for the Braves since returning from the IL.
Atlanta's offense exploded in the fourth inning to give Fried a 7-run cushion and add one more run later on to give them an 8-0 lead. It was up to Fried and the bullpen to hold that lead. It was an all-around great performance from this Braves' team.
Max Fried is excellent in return to the big league mound
Fans anxiously awaited the return of their ace and he didn't disappoint at all in his return for the team. Fried completed 6 innings of work and looked just as good as he did before the injury. Through those six innings, Fried did not allow a single run to score and allowed just 3 hits while striking out 8 batters. Two of those strikeouts were of Dansby Swanson. Most importantly, he did not issue a single walk during this outing and threw just 72 pitches.
Fried was likely on a pitch limit for this first outing and likely determined why he did not pitch any further into the game. That is a perfect line for Fried in his return to the MLB roster. He will help solidify a Braves rotation that has been struggling to get consistency from the 4th and 5th spots in the rotation.
Atlanta Braves Offensive Explosion in the Fourth Inning
The Cubs came into this game on a hot streak and have themselves in a position to contend for the NL Central title. They decided to hold onto Cody Bellinger and other important pieces at the deadline to make a push for the division. However, they ran into an Atlanta Braves team that found their stride again.
Kyle Hendricks held the bats at bay for as long as he could but everything changed in the top of the fourth inning. Everything started with a single off the bat of Ronald Acuna Jr. and it just snowballed from there.
Acuna reached third on a double from Ozzie Albies and Acuna scored on a groundout by Austin Riley. Albies advanced to third on the play and then scored thanks to a double from Matt Olson. Starting to notice a pattern? Good, because it didn't stop there.
Sean Murphy then crushed a ball to right field for a two-run homer which was Murphy's 18th of the season. That homer ties Murphy's career high in home runs which he set in 2022 with Oakland. It's safe to say he's going to set a new career best in 2023 with Atlanta.
The Braves would hit back-to-back homers as Marcell Ozuna absolutely obliterated a ball that left the stadium. Atlanta was up 5-0 at this point and Hendricks wasn't fooling anyone at this point. He did manage to strike out Eddie Rosario but then allowed a double to Orlando Arcia.
Arcia would score thanks to an RBI single by Atlanta centerfielder, Michael Harris II. Harris scored as Ronald Acuna took his second at-bat of the inning and hit a triple to the right-field corner. However, after getting a 7-0 lead on Hendricks, Albies lined out to right field to end the inning.
That's all the Braves really needed for the entire game as the bullpen kept the Cubs off the board. Austin Riley did add the 8th run for Atlanta with a solo home run in the top of the seventh inning. Atlanta led 8-0 as they turned things over to the bullpen to close things out.
Brad Hand makes his Braves debut
After Fried's amazing performance through six innings, Brad Hand was the first man up from the bullpen. His task was to continue that great work and show just why the team acquired him at the trade deadline. Hand is usually great against left-handed batters but looked good against the right-handers he faced in the 7th inning.
He did allow a hit to the lefty Bellinger (because baseball) but erased that runner with a double play to end the inning. It was great to see him have such an efficient inning for the Braves. Hand was then followed by Joe Jimenez who continues his amazing work on the mound. He was dotting the corners and has looked more like the pitcher Atlanta expected.
Jimenez struck out two batters in his outing and it was then up to Colin McHugh to give Atlanta a win in the first of three games. McHugh issued a walk with one out in the inning but did not allow another base runner as he struck out Christopher Morel and got Ian Happ to groundout for the final out of the game.