MLB: Cubs, Braves look primed for a pitchers’ duel

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The opener in the three-game series between the Atlanta Braves and the visiting Chicago Cubs on Monday has all the makings of a great pitching duel.

The Braves will send right-hander Reynaldo Lopez (2-1, 1.53 ERA) against Chicago left-hander Shota Imanaga (5-0, 1.08) in a matchup between two of the league leaders in ERA.

The Braves are coming off a disheartening 4-3 walk-off loss to the New York Mets on Sunday. That prevented Atlanta from sweeping the series and ended its four-game winning streak.

Chicago beat the host Pittsburgh Pirates 5-4 in 10 innings on Sunday to take two of three in that series. The Cubs are 5-5 over their last 10 games.

This will be the first meeting between Atlanta and Chicago this season. They play in Chicago on May 21-23. The Braves won the season series 4-2 in 2023. Chicago hasn’t won the season series since going 6-1 in 2017.

Imanaga was named National League Rookie of the Month for April and has the fourth-lowest ERA for a pitcher through their first seven career starts since 1912. He is the first Cubs starter since 1901 to begin his career with seven straight starts of two or fewer earned runs.

In his last outing on Tuesday against San Diego, Imanaga pitched seven innings and allowed two runs on seven hits, one walk and eight strikeouts. He did not receive a decision in the Cubs’ 3-2 win.

“He has done a great job of playing the high-low game — fastballs up and splitters down has really been effective,” Chicago president of baseball operations Jed Hoyer told the Chicago Tribune. “Just in general the strike throwing. You never know when a pitcher is coming from Japan and having a different ball and a different strike zone, how the command is going to be, and his command has obviously been excellent.”

Lopez will be making his seventh start and only once has allowed as many as three runs. He received a no decision in his last outing, which came against Boston on Tuesday. He gave up two runs (one earned) on six hits, four walks and five strikeouts. Lopez began to struggle in the fifth inning and allowed a one-out triple but came back to end the inning with a pair of strikeouts.

“I loved to see when he got in trouble, he was reaching back for 98 (mph),” Atlanta manager Brian Snitker said.

Lopez has made eight career appearances, three starts, against the Cubs, going 3-1 with a 3.86 ERA. He came out of the bullpen to face the Cubs three times in 2022 and went 1-0 without allowing an earned run in 2 1/3 innings.

The Atlanta offense continues to be led by designated hitter Marcell Ozuna, who drove in two more runs on Sunday and leads the majors with 40. He leads the National League with 12 homers.

Chicago’s Cody Bellinger had one hit on Sunday and has reached base in 12 of his last 13 games. Christopher Morel hit his ninth homer on Sunday and has six over his last 13 games.

Atlanta third baseman Austin Riley left Sunday’s game as a precaution after feeling tightness in his left side. He will be re-evaluated on Monday.

The Cubs are playing without former Braves player Dansby Swanson, who is on the injured list with a right knee sprain.

–Field Level Media

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