(Sports Network) – Sunday’s matchup isn’t just big because of Atlanta’s quest to end a four-year playoff drought. It could also mark the final time managers Bobby Cox and Lou Piniella square off in a major league game.
With both managers set to retire at season’s end, Cox and his first-place Braves will try to better Piniella’s Cubs one more time in the finale of a three-game set at Wrigley Field.
Cox owns a 37-26 advantage in the head-to-head matchups between himself and Piniella. While he has spent the majority of his coaching career with the Braves, Piniella has helmed the Yankees, Reds, Mariners, Devil Rays and Cubs in his coaching career. Both have also won a World Series as a manager.
Cox got the best of his fellow skipper on Friday thanks to a late rally and nearly pulled off another comeback yesterday. Brooks Conrad hit a pinch-hit, three-run double in the eighth inning to pull the Braves within one, but the Cubs prevented further damage and closer Carlos Marmol, who blew a one-run lead in the ninth on Friday, posted a scoreless ninth for his 22nd save.
Chicago’s bullpen nearly wasted a gem by starter Tom Gorzelanny, who scattered a run and seven hits over seven innings, striking out nine in his first victory since July 24.
“We put him in the rotation and he’s gotten progressively better as the season has gone on,” Piniella said. “That’s a good sign. Instead of a pitcher peaking early and going the other way, he’s pitched better as the summer has wore on. That’s what you want to see.”
Aramis Ramirez had three hits and both he and Tyler Colvin drove in two runs for the Cubs, who snapped a five-game skid overall and halted a string of eight consecutive losses at Wrigley Field.
Tommy Hanson yielded five runs — four earned — over five full frames in defeat for the Braves, who had won five of six coming in but still maintained a 2 1/2-game edge over the Phillies for first place in the National League East.
Atlanta has won five of its last seven versus Chicago, taking two out of three at home from April 5-8.
Young left-hander Mike Minor will make his third start with the Braves looking to build off his first career victory.
After allowing three earned runs in his debut in Houston on Aug. 9, a no- decision, the seventh overall pick of the 2009 draft limited the Nationals to just a pair of runs on five hits over six innings in his home debut.
“Definitely feels a lot better than last week. I am glad to help out the team,” the 22-year-old Minor said. “I started the first inning slow and wasn’t hitting my spots or anything. I kind of felt like I settled in and started hitting my spots.”
Drawing the starting assignment for the Cubs is Randy Wells, who is winless over his last five starts — all Cubs losses — while going 0-4 with a 5.97 ERA in that span.
Wells, who turns 28 next weekend, looked like he would earn his first victory since July 23 on Tuesday versus the Padres as he gave up just a run on three hits over seven innings, but he got no support in a 1-0 loss that dropped him to 5-11 on the season with a 4.44 ERA.
The right-hander certainly didn’t look like he would have a losing record at this point given the start to his season. Wells hurled six shutout innings of six-hit ball in a 2-0 triumph versus the Braves on April 8, improving to 2-0 with a 1.42 ERA in three career starts against Atlanta.
Wells is likely to be pitching to catcher Geovany Soto today as he is expected to return from a sprained ligament in his right shoulder that landed him on the disabled list Aug. 7. Soto is hitting .288 with 15 homers and 45 RBI in 88 games this season.