Braves-Cubs Preview

Quality depth is one reason the Chicago Cubs have some lofty expectations for 2016.

They may not have to tap as deep into their reserves, however, after a rainout gave one of their stars extra time to heal.

Kris Bryant is available to start Sunday as the Cubs go for an eighth straight victory over the visiting Atlanta Braves.

Saturday's game was called about two hours before the scheduled first pitch due to rain forecasted to fall all day. No makeup date was immediately announced, but July 7 appears likely with both teams off and the Braves returning to Chicago to face the White Sox a day later.

In Friday's opener, Cubs reserve outfielder Matt Szczur hit his first grand slam to highlight a five-run eighth inning in Chicago's fourth straight win, 6-1.

Besides those heroics, backup Javier Baez doubled and scored while starting at third base in place of Bryant. With another pinch hit, Tommy La Stella improved to 6 for 9 with a homer and four doubles in his last five games.

"We just come ready to play," manager Joe Maddon said. "A couple of guys were out and the guys that stood in there for them did outstanding work.

"It's all really good stuff."

After spending the past two seasons between the majors and minors, Szczur has become an asset with slugger Kyle Schwarber on the disabled list.

"I appreciate (Maddon) giving me chances to succeed," said Szczur, who is 3 for his last 9. "I take pride in that, and I think all of our bench players take pride in that. That's why we're doing so well."

Baez has also been a key part of Maddon's ever-changing lineup, batting .310 in 29 at-bats, but he may return to the bench with Bryant cleared. Bryant suffered a mild right ankle sprain running the bases Thursday.

''He's doing really well this morning,'' Maddon said Saturday. ''We'll wait to see what tomorrow looks like. I'll debate whether to play him or not. If he doesn't start, he'll be able to come off the bench.''

Veteran catcher David Ross is 5 for 16 with two homers and five RBIs in his last five games, and he's no longer relegated to the role of personal catcher for Jon Lester with Miguel Montero also on the DL.

After Lester allowed a run and struck out 10 over seven innings Friday, John Lackey (3-1, 4.97 ERA) hopes to bounce back from giving up six runs and seven hits in 5 2/3 innings of last Saturday's 13-5 loss at Cincinnati.

Yielding that many runs for the second time in four starts, Lackey wants to be more aggressive - especially with two strikes.

"Sometimes you can almost throw too many strikes," the right-hander told MLB's official website. "Maybe need to make some people a little more uncomfortable."

Freddie Freeman homered for one of Atlanta's seven hits Friday. Batting .339 in 14 games since going 2 for 25 in the first eight, Freeman has hit three of the Braves' five home runs this year.

Atlanta (5-18) has scored 75 runs while the Cubs' run differential is a major league-best plus-79. The Braves have been outscored 44-16 in the last seven with Chicago (17-5).

They've totaled 10 runs while losing all five starts made by Julio Teheran (0-3, 4.60). The right-hander, though, has kept his team in the last two while giving up three runs over 12 1/3 innings. One of those runs was issued over seven of Monday's 1-0 loss to Boston.

"That was the first time that I've felt like that this year," Teheran said. "I felt like I had everything working."

He's 2-0 with a 3.82 ERA in five starts against the Cubs.

Anthony Rizzo is 2 for 13 with a homer when facing Teheran, but he's batting .310 with five home runs and 13 RBIs in the last eight games.

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