There may not be another pitcher in baseball more anxious to start the second half than Jon Lester, who gets the call as the defending world champion Chicago Cubs open a three-game series Monday at the Atlanta Braves. Lester, who won 19 games a season ago, was pummeled for 10 runs (four earned) in just two-thirds of an inning in his final start of the first half and has allowed nine earned runs in 5 2/3 innings across two July starts.
Chicago begins the week hoping to continue the offensive onslaught that led to a three-game weekend sweep at Baltimore, scoring 27 runs in the three games as Willson Contreras finished the series 8-of-14 with four RBIs. The surprising Braves are at .500 (45-45) after finishing a three-game home sweep of Arizona on Sunday, winning 7-1 as Brandon Phillips doubled three times. Phillips finished the series 7-for-12 with five doubles, a homer and four RBIs. The Cubs start the week trailing Colorado by 5 ½ games for the second and final wild-card spot in the National League, with Atlanta sitting one half-game behind Chicago.
TV: 7:35 p.m. ET, WGN (Chicago), FSN Southeast (Atlanta)
PITCHING MATCHUP: Cubs LH Jon Lester (5-6, 4.25 ERA) vs. Braves RH Julio Teheran (7-6, 4.79)
Lester put together a strong June, going 2-1 in six starts with a 3.41 ERA while allowing three earned runs or fewer five times. The 33-year-old is 2-3 with a 4.96 ERA in eight away starts, giving up seven homers in 45 1/3 innings and a .288 batting average against. Lester is 4-2 in seven career starts against Atlanta, going 1-0 with a 0.64 ERA in two outings last season with two walks and 17 strikeouts over 14 innings.
Teheran ended an up-and-down first half with two strong road starts to begin July, allowing two runs on seven hits in 13 1/3 innings in a no-decision against Oakland and a victory against Washington. He held the Nationals to four hits in seven scoreless innings in his last turns on July 8. Teheran, who posted a 6.35 ERA in June, is 2-0 with a 3.11 ERA in six career starts against Chicago.
1. The Braves hit four doubles Sunday, giving them at least two in 12 consecutive contests - three shy of the club record.
2. Cubs 3B Kris Bryant collected three hits for the second consecutive game Sunday, his third such effort this month and the ninth game in 2017 with at least that many.
3. Atlanta is 37-17 this season when scoring four or more runs.
PREDICTION: Cubs 5, Braves 1