Atlanta Braves’ David Carpenter walks off the field at the end of the eighth inning against the Chicago Cubs in Chicago on Saturday. (Reuters/Jim Young)
CHICAGO — The Atlanta Braves will have to wait a little longer to clinch the NL East championship.
The Braves led heading into the bottom of the eighth, but the Chicago Cubs scored three times in the inning, rallying for a 3-1 win Saturday and temporarily denying Atlanta its first division title since 2005.
Atlanta can still win the division title if Miami beats Washington later Saturday, but the Braves were five outs from clinching themselves before Chicago’s comeback.
Kris Medlen allowed one run and six hits while striking out six in 7 1/3 innings, but he got a no-decision and saw his four-start winning streak come to an end. He left after allowing a one-out single to Starlin Castro, starting a rally that ended with the Cubs’ first win over Atlanta this year.
Scott Downs (2-1) then allowed a single by Donnie Murphy before Anthony Rizzo doubled to left, tying the game at 1. Downs was replaced by David Carpenter, who gave up Dioner Navarro’s go-ahead single and Nate Schierholtz’s sacrifice fly.
“It’s tough, but I’m a former bullpen guy and I know how tough that job is,” Medlen said. “The dudes do their best, they’ve carried us the entire year, so these things happen and nobody in this clubhouse is panicking at all or anything.”
Downs wasn’t either. But he also wasn’t too happy.
“It’s just frustrating with the way (Medlen) threw the ball to come up short like that,” Downs said. “It’s frustrating.”
The Braves offense was frustrated by Travis Wood and the Cubs, who won for just the third time in nine games.
Wood threw seven-plus innings and allowed one run and five hits while striking out seven for his 24th quality start. Carlos Villanueva (7-8) threw a scoreless inning of relief for the win and Pedro Strop picked up his first save, while the Braves left seven runners on base.
The Cubs didn’t squander their biggest chance in the eighth, something Wood appreciated.
“Absolutely,” Wood said. “Keeping the game close like that all game, especially with the great ballclub they have over there, and for us to finally put together some hits and some runs and scratch it out.”
Atlanta took a 1-0 lead when Evan Gattis’ single went under the glove of right fielder Schierholtz, allowing Freddie Freeman to score from second. The Braves eventually loaded the bases with two outs, but Wood struck out B.J. Upton looking.
That looked like it would be enough for Atlanta before the Cubs rallied against Medlen, Downs and Carpenter.
“(Downs has) been good and he’s going to continue to be good,” Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez said. “Right now we’ve got to get him in those situations and we’ve got to get him getting some people out, which we will.”
Even though the Braves lost Saturday, they are all but certain to win a division they’ve led by themselves since April 7.
And Medlen has been a big part of that. He had won his last four starts and is still 3-0 in September with a 1.29 ERA. Since Tim Hudson was lost for the season on July 24 with a broken right ankle, Medlen has gone 8-2 and allowed 18 earned runs in 70 innings for a 2.31 ERA.
That kept up Saturday and brought the Braves to the brink of a division title.
“For the most part I felt like it was a successful day for myself,” Medlen said, “but that’s not all that matters.”
For the Braves, winning the division isn’t the ultimate outcome, either. Even when they clinch the division, they’ll still be playing for the best record in National League and home-field advantage until the World Series.
Pending the Dodgers’ game late Saturday in San Diego, the Braves have the best record in the league by three games.
“We’ll, we’ve got to keep competing,” Gonzalez said. “I think there’s still a lot of baseball games left. I don’t think we can take our foot off the accelerator.”
NOTES: Atlanta OF Jason Heyward was not in the starting lineup, one day after going 0-for-2 in his first day back since breaking his jaw Aug. 21. He came in as a defensive replacement in the eighth inning, playing right field. Gonzalez said he might give Heyward “three or four at-bats again and five or six innings” Sunday. … Kevin Gregg was retained by the Cubs, one day after ranting against the team’s front office, something that led team president Theo Epstein to consider releasing the veteran reliever. Gregg has 32 saves in 37 opportunities, but he thought mistakenly he was losing his job to Strop. Instead, the Cubs are planning to give Strop an occasional save chance to evaluate him. … Atlanta gave C Brian McCann a day off. … The Cubs honored prospects Javier Baez and Kyle Hendricks, their minor league player and pitcher of the year, respectively. … today’s pitching matchup is Atlanta’s Julio Teheran (12-8, 3.14 ERA) against Chicago’s Edwin Jackson (8-16, 4.75 ERA).