Braves Shut Out Chicago Cubs for Series-Clinching Victory on Thursday Afternoon

The Atlanta Braves got great contributions from youngster AJ Smith-Shawver and the back-end of the bullpen
Atlanta Braves pitcher AJ Smith-Shawver (32) pitches against the Chicago Cubs during the first inning at Wrigley Field.
Atlanta Braves pitcher AJ Smith-Shawver (32) pitches against the Chicago Cubs during the first inning at Wrigley Field. / David Banks-USA TODAY Sports
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The Atlanta Braves shut down the Chicago Cubs offense en route to a 3-0 series-sealing victory on Thursday afternoon in Wrigley Field. 

Here’s what you need to know about from the contest.

AJ Smith-Shawver shove day

Atlanta’s top pitching prospect made his 2024 debut today, aiming to show that he was better than the ERA he’s put up so far for Triple-A Gwinnett (6.10). 

He accomplished that and more. 

The 21-year-old struck out two of the first three batters he faced and finished after 4.1 innings of scoreless baseball. Allowing only three hits and two walks, Smith-Shawver struck out four and was never in any real trouble, with only two baserunners even making it into scoring position in this one. 

The length isn’t that much of a surprise - Smith-Shawver’s longest outing of the season for Gwinnett was 5.1 innings and his highest pitch count was 91 pitches. This one was 87 pitches (55 strikes), complete with nine whiffs and a 24% CSW. He spread around the damage, too, with four whiffs on the fastball (which toped out over 99 mph), three on the changeup, and two on the curveball. 

One of the most interesting changes is the continued usage of the changeup - mostly a fastball/slider pitcher last season, he was notably working on the changeup in both spring training and in the minors, but that extra offspeed usage continued today. Not sure if that’s a permanent change or just a case of Smith-Shawver being accustomed to throwing it a lot more, but it’s worth noting. 

Quiet day for the offense

The Braves have struggled offensively in this series, which feels weird to day when they put up nine runs yesterday, but it’s true. 

After going 0-for-14 with runners in scoring position in the series opener, Atlanta was just 2-for-7 in last night’s win and today was more of the same. The Braves got two runners on in the first inning just to put up three consecutive outs to strand both Ronald Acuña Jr and Ozzie Albies on base.    

The first Braves run came on a leadoff homer from Jarred Kelenic in the 5th inning and then they added to it in the 8th with a single and a sac fly. That single, coming from Ozzie Albies, was Atlanta’s only hit of the day with a runner in scoring position, with the team finishing 1-for-10 on the day and 3-for-21 in the series.   

For as good as the offense was on Wednesday, this series was won thanks to Braves pitching allowing only two runs combined across the final two games, including a six-pitcher shutout by Atlanta today. 

The Braves were able to save Darius Vines...if they decide they want to use him

Vines, who was called up for Bryce Elder on Monday and stuck in the bullpen for long relief, was always a possibility to be the Friday night starter if everything worked out. 

It almost didn’t. The righty started lightly tossing when Charlie Morton was in early trouble on Tuesday, but Morton was able to right the ship and ultimately get through five innings, allowing the team to spare Vines. With Max Fried’s complete game last night and the Braves using their preferred late-inning mix in this one, going Pierce Johnson/Joe Jiménez/A.J. Minter/Raisel Iglesias, Vines was able to take the day off and now he’s available to start tomorrow for the series opener in Pittsburgh. 

In this stretch of seventeen games in seventeen days, it was an open question as to how Atlanta would continue the trend of building in rest days for their starting rotation, but going back-to-back with prospects should give all of the remaining starters an extra day before they’re asked to go again. 

With Vines in mind for Friday’s TBA, the team announced prior to the game that this weekend’s rotation would be Reynaldo López on Saturday and Chris Sale on Sunday. It’ll be the first time López has started on regular rest all season, while Sale will get one additional day prior to his Sunday series finale. 

UPDATE: Brian Snitker was hesitant to commit to Vines starting in his postgame comments, saying that the team still needed to discuss it. Mark Bowman of speculated from Snit's comments that it will be someone who isn't currently on the roster, indicating that another roster move would be made.

What’s next for the Atlanta Braves?

Atlanta’s hopping on a plane for the short flight to Pittsburgh for tomorrow night’s series opener with the Pittsburgh Pirates. Darius Vines is expected to be the team’s starter, taking on lefty Bailey Falter, with first pitch scheduled for 6:40 PM ET from Pittsburgh’s PNC Park. 

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Lindsay Crosby


Managing Editor for Braves Today and the 2023 IBWAA Prospects/Minors Writer of the Year. You can reach him at