ATLANTA -- Possibly pitching for his spot in the Braves' rotation after the All-Star break, right-hander Randall Delgado threw his best game in two weeks. His best, however, wasn't quite good enough for a Braves victory Wednesday night.
Delgado gave up three runs in six innings as the Braves lost, 5-1, to the Cubs in front of 40,604 fans at Turner Field. The Braves have lost five of their last seven games and, at the mathematical midpoint of the season, have slid to six games behind the Nationals in the National League East.
After Wednesday's loss, Delgado is 4-9 with a 4.52 ERA. He has had an up-and-down season and has been a part of the inconsistency in the Braves' rotation that has led general manager Frank Wren to look outside the organization for possible improvements.
This week, the Braves announced the signing of right-hander Ben Sheets to a Minor League contract. Wren said Sheets may only need two starts in the Minor Leagues before he can join the Braves after the All-Star break. Sheets made his first start for Double-A Mississippi on Wednesday night, throwing five innings and allowing four runs on five hits, walking one and striking out six.
Wednesday at Turner Field, Sheets wasn't on the Braves' minds. They were simply trying to contend with a recently reinvigorated Cubs team that has now won seven of its last nine games.
"They've got a couple different players who are playing pretty good for them right now," said Michael Bourn -- who fell a home run away from the cycle as he seeks an All-Star berth via the 2012 All-Star Game MLB.com Final Vote Sponsored by Firestone, which ends Thursday at 4 p.m. ET. "You can't fault anybody over here. Randall pitched a real good game. They scored, but we weren't just giving it to them. They were earning it."
The Cubs quickly took the lead in the first inning. With runners on the corners and one out, Anthony Rizzo attempted to steal second base. Braves catcher David Ross threw down to second, easily throwing out Rizzo. As Ross threw, however, Starlin Castro broke for home and scored without a throw.
The Braves had a chance to get on the scoreboard in the bottom of the first, but, in what would be a pattern for the rest of the night, they were unable to come up with a clutch hit. The Braves loaded the bases with one out on singles from Bourn, Martin Prado and Chipper Jones, who had two more hits after his third career five-hit night Tuesday. But Freddie Freeman hit a hard ground ball up the middle that Castro was able to turn into an inning-ending double play.
The Braves scored their lone run in the third inning, when Bourn tripled off the wall in left-center and Prado drove him in with a single. The game wouldn't remain tied for long. In the fourth inning, Chicago retook the lead for good. Cubs All-Star Bryan LaHair hit a solo home run to right field, his 14th of the year.
The Braves' best chance to score the rest of the night came when they were trailing, 2-1, in the sixth inning. With runners on first and second, Ross hit a two-out single to left field. As Jones rounded third, left fielder Alfonso Soriano fielded the ball and fired home. The throw appeared to start off line, but ended up in catcher Geovany Soto's glove in plenty of time to prevent Jones from scoring.
"That throw made all the difference in the world," Cubs manager Dale Sveum said. "It just shows you, he's been working his butt off to do things like that, and it paid off."
After Soriano's throw ended the sixth, the Cubs padded their lead with two insurance runs in the seventh and another in the eighth. Darwin Barney scored on a wild pitch, and Jeff Baker and Rizzo each hit solo home runs.
The Braves' offense was supplied almost entirely by Bourn, Prado and Jones, who combined for seven of the Braves' eight hits. Jones extended his hitting streak to 11 games, his longest since June 2010.
But without help from their teammates, who went 1-for-20 with two walks, their efforts went for naught. Cubs starter Paul Maholm scattered eight hits in six innings and was able to work out of trouble seemingly whenever he found it. The Braves stranded six runners against Maholm.
"We hit some balls hard, we hit some balls well, we had some base hits against him," Jason Heyward said. "We put him in some situations where he had to make pitches, and it seemed like he made them. Tip your hat to him; tip your hat to their defense."
Teddy Cahill is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.