Cubs on a roll with victory at halfway mark

Cubs on a roll with victory at halfway mark

Cubs on a roll with victory at halfway mark
ATLANTA -- The Cubs have reached the official midway point of the season, Game No. 81, and they're feeling a lot better about themselves.

All-Star Bryan LaHair hit a tiebreaking solo home run, Anthony Rizzo belted his third and pinch-hitter Jeff Baker added a solo shot to back Paul Maholm and lead the Cubs to a 5-1 victory Wednesday over the Braves for their seventh win in the last nine games.

"Sometimes you meet a team that is playing good baseball, and that is what is happening right now," Atlanta's Michael Bourn said.

"We're obviously playing a lot better baseball than we were the first two months," Maholm said. "I think you can credit every guy in here who comes in here and prepares every day and expects to win and lays it out there, and however it may be, we'll come in and do the same thing."

The Cubs stole a run in the first. With one out, Starlin Castro walked and reached third on Rizzo's single. Rizzo was thrown out trying to steal second, but Castro scampered home on the fielder's choice.

"That's a play we have," Cubs manager Dale Sveum said. "Rizzo did the delay steal really well, and you do stuff like that to try to catch people off guard early in a game. In that situation, your big boys are coming up, and you just want to take the lead somehow."

Martin Prado hit an RBI single in the Braves' third, driving in Bourn, who tripled. LaHair, named to the National League All-Star team as a reserve, put Chicago ahead, 2-1, with his 14th homer with one out in the fourth.

LaHair said he's made a few adjustments with his swing and has seen positive results. He also likes the idea of what is emerging as a strong one-two Cubs combo with him and Rizzo.

"I'm going to push him and he's going to push me, and we're going to compete as teammates," LaHair said. "It's good when you have guys with those abilities to be able to compete with each other, and you've got [Alfonso Soriano] who competes. When we're all competing together as a team to win, a lot of good things happen."

The Braves threatened in the sixth, when Chipper Jones tried to score from second on David Ross' single, but Soriano nailed him at home with a perfect throw. That was a turning point.

"Soriano's throw changed the whole pitching selection and the bullpen and double switching -- that throw made all the difference in the world," Sveum said. "It just shows you, he's been working his butt off to do things like that, and it paid off."

"He's a little bit unorthodox," Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez said of Soriano. "You look at some of his past years, and he's led the league in assists or been up there every year. Some of that is because they challenge him. He's a little unorthodox, but he gets it there and he's pretty accurate."

Darwin Barney doubled to lead off the Cubs' seventh and scored on a wild pitch by Randall Delgado (4-9). Baker followed with his second pinch-hit homer of the season, and Rizzo hit a laser over the right-field fence leading off the eighth. Rizzo now has six RBIs in eight games since being promoted from Triple-A Iowa.

"A lot of young guys come up and you can see them just hacking at the first pitch and not wanting to get deep in the count and striking out," Maholm said of Rizzo. "I think whenever they groove him one on the first pitch, he's ready for it, but he's willing to grind it out, and he's willing to take a walk or get the guy over.

"He's obviously matured as a hitter since his struggles last year in San Diego. It's good to see him do that and relax and just let the talent work and not think he has to put us on his back."

Maholm (6-6), making his last start before the All-Star break, gave up one run over six innings for his second straight win.

"He had all his pitches working again," Sveum said. "He seemed to have life on his fastball, too."

Maholm also was pitching in one of his favorite ballparks.

"I like it here," the left-hander said. "I grew up a Braves fan and grew up watching Chipper, watching [Tom] Glavine and [Greg] Maddux and all those guys. I enjoy pitching here. It's a fair park, and it's hot and humid and how I grew up pitching in. You're definitely gassed when you're done. I can't say I don't enjoy coming here."

The Cubs now are 31-50 at the halfway point.

"When you're 20 games under .500, you've obviously underachieved," Sveum said.

Sveum would like to see pitchers avoid nine walks, which they gave up in Tuesday's loss, and also have the hitters deliver more with runners in scoring position. Since Rizzo was promoted, the Cubs are 6-2, and the lineup has become more stabilized. It helps that the rookie is contributing. Six of his first 10 hits have been for extra bases. Carlos Marmol has resumed the closer's job, and the pitchers at the back of the bullpen have settled into their roles.

Sveum's goals for the second half?

"You have a team that, since it's a little more stable, you'd like to have a goal of playing .500 baseball in the second half with the team we have to get a respectable record," he said. "It's still a day-to-day game. You have the goal of winning series, winning the first game of the series, and go from there."

Carrie Muskat is a reporter for She writes a blog, Muskat Ramblings, and you can follow her on Twitter@CarrieMuskat. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.