"It was a nice win for us," Braves pitcher Tim Hudson said after limiting the Cubs to one run in 6 2/3 innings. "You know you're not going to get much against a pitcher like Samardzija. He was really good today. He was throwing some cheese in there. We were fortunate to get some opportunities and take advantage of it."
While winning five of the six games on this first homestand, the Braves lived up to the expectations of being a team that will hit for power and swing and miss with great consistency. They have already compiled 11 home runs -- a total they reached in their 12th game last year.
Samardzija accounted for 13 of the 16 strikeouts the Braves tallied on the way to the victory. This marks the second time this year that Atlanta has won a game while striking out 16 times. Before this year, the Braves had won a grand total of eight games while striking out at least 16 times.
"We don't worry about the strikeouts," Braves second baseman Dan Uggla said. "That's everybody else who looks around at the batting average and the strikeouts. When it comes down to it, it's about run production. You can strike out 20 times. As long as you get a good outing from your pitcher and a three-run bomb, you win the game."
Uggla's eighth-inning solo shot provided a little breathing room and served as the only home run the Braves produced in the series finale against the Cubs.
On the way to completing this season's first three-game sweep, the Braves received a strong start from Hudson and saw Ramiro Pena deliver two more key hits while substituting for shortstop Andrelton Simmons, who is expected to return to the lineup on Monday after missing two games with a sore right thumb.
Pena's two-out double helped the Braves score their first run against a dominant Samardzija in the fifth inning. The versatile infielder then highlighted his successful afternoon with a two-run, sixth-inning single that gave the Braves a lead they would not relinquish.
"Having the chance to play here means a lot to me. I try to do my best. I just try to play the game and enjoy it," Pena said.
This was certainly a memorable first week in Atlanta for Pena, who spent the past four seasons with the Yankees. The switch-hitter introduced himself to the Turner Field faithful with a two-run single in the three-run eighth inning that fueled Saturday night's comeback victory.
"Pena beat us two days in a row," Cubs manager Dale Sveum said. "He's one guy in that lineup who you didn't expect to beat us two days in a row. He caught us with our guard down."
Samardzija was in total command as he struck out six of the first seven batters he faced and allowed the Braves to put just three balls in play before Pena sparked Atlanta's offense with his two-out, fifth-inning double. The Cubs right-hander then issued a five-pitch walk to Hudson before uncorking a wild pitch that allowed Pena to race home as B.J. Upton strolled toward first base with a walk.
After notching his 13th and final strikeout against Justin Upton to open the bottom of the sixth, Samardzija walked Evan Gattis and allowed Juan Francisco to drill a single that knocked shortstop Starlin Castro off his feet. The Cubs pitcher then became upset when plate umpire Alfonso Marquez ruled that a pitch grazed Chris Johnson.
"His pitch count was getting up there and he knew he was getting close to being out of the game," Hudson said. "As a starting pitcher, you want to try to eliminate opportunities for the other team late in the game. That kind of opened the door for us. It was a close pitch. Whether it hit him or not, I have not seen any replays. But it was an opportunity for us and we were able to take advantage."
With the bases loaded and Samardzija attempting to regain his composure, Pena turned on a 96-mph fastball and sent it to right field. The two-run single chased Samardzija, who has compiled 24 strikeouts in the 12 2/3 innings he has completed in his past two starts against the Braves.
"When you've got power, it's just a matter of time before somebody in our dugout could ruin your night," Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez said. "The way Samardzija was pitching I did not think today was not one of those days when it would be just a matter of time."
Hudson capped the decisive three-run sixth inning with an RBI single off Michael Bowden, but his most impressive contributions came while he limited the Cubs to one run and three hits in 6 2/3 innings. Chicago's only run came when David DeJesus opened the game with a double and scored on Anthony Rizzo's groundout.
"It's a great start to the year," Hudson said. "We've won some close games. Last night was a nail-biter. Today was a nail-biter and then we ended up winning by a few runs. But it was anybody's ballgame for the first seven innings."