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Cubs’ 1-2 punch at top of rotation continues to shine

2 weeks agoAndy Martinez

A scuffling Cubs offense had the perfect start Wednesday in Atlanta.

And Javier Assad took it from there.

The Cubs scored on the very first pitch of the game, then Assad followed with 6 shutout innings as the Cubs beat the Braves 7-1 in the series finale in Atlanta.

Shut out the first two games in Atlanta, the Cubs responded in a big way, striking early and often. After Mike Tauchman took the first pitch of the game for a home run to left field, the Cubs struck two more times in the opening frame.

It was all Assad would need.

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Assad retired the side in order in the 1st and stymied a potent Braves lineup. Atlanta had one player reach scoring position against Assad — Travis d’Arnaud on a 1-out double in the 2nd. Assad stranded d’Arnaud by inducing back-to-back groundouts to escape the jam.

It was a vintage outing by the righty. He kept the Cubs in the game and worked out of trouble. This season, opponents are slashing .094/.179/.094 with runners in scoring position against him.

With the outing, Assad lowered his ERA to 1.49, the fourth-best mark in baseball.

The 26-year-old continues to be a revelation, not just for the Cubs, but for baseball in general. The fifth starter to open the season, Assad has pitched as the Cubs’ second-best starter, behind Shota Imanaga. It’s stabilized their rotation, allowing them to maneuver around injuries to Justin Steele and Jameson Taillon at points this season.

Assad’s early season run, coupled with the overall strong performance of the rotation — their 3.17 ERA is third-best in baseball — has allowed the Cubs some flexibility with their roster. Manager Craig Counsell has been able to utilize young pitchers Ben Brown and Hayden Wesneski in the bullpen, helping stabilize a weak area for the Cubs.

Brown pitched 2 innings Wednesday, allowing a run on 4 hits with 3 strikeouts. Using Brown in a short burst allows him to pitch again sooner, giving Counsell another quality option sooner than if the rookie had pitched the last 3 innings.

That could be an x-factor for the Cubs’ bullpen woes. Counsell could continue to use Brown in short bursts — and more frequently — like he did Wednesday.

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