By CHARLES ODUM, AP Sports Writer
ATLANTA (AP) — The Cubs are on the roll that had been long expected from the defending World Series champions.
Manager Joe Maddon said he likes the momentum created by a season-best six straight wins and feels even better about the positive energy in his clubhouse.
Mike Montgomery hit his first career home run and allowed two hits and one run in six innings to lead streaking Chicago to an 8-2 win over the Atlanta Braves on Wednesday.
Javier Baez hit a three-run homer in the eighth for Chicago, which hasn’t lost since the All-Star break. The Cubs completed a three-game sweep of the Braves.
“It’s even beyond that,” Maddon said when asked about the winning streak. “It’s just how we’re starting to feel about ourselves. Yeah, the momentum is part of it but we’ve had this energy since the beginning of the second half in Baltimore.”
The mood might have been spoiled if not for an encouraging report on Kris Bryant, the Cubs’ 2016 NL MVP who left the game with a sprained left little finger in the first inning.
“I don’t have any final conclusions but I think we really kind of dodged the bullet right there,” Maddon said.
The team said X-rays were negative and Bryant is day to day.
Tommy La Stella, who replaced Bryant, also homered and Addison Russell drove in two runs with four hits, including two doubles.
The Cubs came to Atlanta only one-half game ahead of the Braves in the NL wild-card standings. Now they’re bearing down on NL Central-leading Milwaukee.
“That’s not a team that’s going to stay dormant,” Braves manager Brian Snitker said. “They’re too good for that.”
The Braves loaded the bases with three singles off Koji Uehara in the eighth. After Pedro Strop replaced Uehara, Matt Kemp grounded into a double play to end the inning.
Montgomery (2-6) earned his first win since June 20. The only run he allowed came on a sixth-inning leadoff homer by Ender Inciarte . It was Montgomery’s best start since throwing six scoreless innings in a 4-0 win over San Diego on June 20.
Tyler Flowers led off the seventh with a homer off Justin Grimm.
Montgomery reached the second level of the right-field seats with his homer off R.A. Dickey (6-6) in the fifth inning. After the game, he found the home run ball had been left in his locker.
“The first homer obviously is pretty exciting,” Montgomery said. “I had a bunch of family here so to do it in front of them was a lot of fun.”
Bryant’s injury scare threatened to spoil the Cubs’ win.
After hitting a double to center field off Dickey, Bryant tried to advance to third on a pitch in the dirt. He slid head-first and was thrown out by Flowers. Bryant immediately looked at his left hand while still on the ground and when he rose to his feet.
Braves RHP Arodys Vizcaino (strained right index finger) was activated from the DL. He pitched the ninth inning and gave up a run in his return after missing 11 games. OF Lane Adams was optioned to Triple-A Gwinnett. The moves left Atlanta with an eight-man bullpen after a brief experiment with seven relievers and an extra position player. … 1B Freddie Freeman left the game due to an illness Snitker described as “a little viral-type thing there. He’s OK now.”
Montgomery surprised Dickey by taking a big swing on a 2-0 fastball that he hit for the home run.
“That’s the first time in my career that a pitcher swung on a 2-0 pitch against me in a situation like that,” said the 42-year-old Dickey. “He ambushed me and you have to give him credit. He had a good swing.”
Montgomery said Dickey placed the fastball “pretty much the only place I could do that.”
SOARING IN SECOND HALF
The Cubs have won their first six games since the All-Star break for the first time since 1935. Their only better second-half start was 7-0 in 1933.
Cubs: Following an off day on Thursday, Jake Arrieta (9-7, 4.17) will face St. Louis on Friday in only his seventh home start of 20 overall this season.
Braves: Mike Foltynewicz (7-5, 3.84) will make his first career start against the Dodgers in the opening game of a four-game series at Los Angeles on Thursday night.