CHICAGO -- This certainly was not a performance that signaled that Jair Jurrjens is ready to immediately regain the dominant form he possessed during the season's first half. But with some good fortune on his side, the Braves' pitcher at least looked better than he had during any of his previous starts since the All-Star break.
Jurrjens escaped a number of potentially damaging situations, and received some support from Dan Uggla, who drilled his 30th homer of the season to help the Braves remain hot with a 3-0 win over the Cubs on Monday night at Wrigley Field.
"I like to live dangerously sometimes," Jurrjens said after managing to keep the Cubs scoreless while allowing eight hits and issuing five walks over 6 1/3 innings.
On the way to notching their fifth straight win and solidifying their comfortable lead at the top of the National League Wild Card standings, the Braves saw the Cubs strand 15 runners and go 2-for-14 with runners in scoring position.
Keeping the evening's theme alive, Jonny Venters kept things interesting to the bitter end while allowing Craig Kimbrel to rest following the 25-pitch save he notched Sunday. Venters walked the first two batters he faced in the ninth, and then recorded two strikeouts before escaping the threat unscathed.
"That's not the way you draw it up," Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez said. "But Jonny has the composure to get out of that jam. It was nice to give Kimbrel a day and an opportunity to rest him after yesterday's outing."
While the outing might not have been picturesque, the results may have at least provided some confidence for Jurrjens, who had posted a 6.52 ERA in his five previous starts since the All-Star break. After missing the first two weeks of this month with a sore right knee, he returned last Wednesday and allowed the Giants five earned runs in just six innings.
Jurrjens felt he had better command in this outing, and the comfort that comes with an improved changeup. He also encountered good fortune when his previously ailing right knee locked as he fielded a swinging bunt in the sixth inning.
After being checked briefly, Jurrjens continued to pitch with the hope of regaining the form that helped him post a National League-best 1.87 ERA before the All-Star break.
"I think as we go forward, the more starts he gets, the better he's going to be," Gonzalez said.
As Jurrjens stranded 11 runners through the first six inning, Cubs starter Ryan Dempster was falling victim to the long ball. Braves rookie first baseman Freddie Freeman opened the game's scoring with a one-out homer to center field in the second inning. It was his 18th homer of the season, tying him with Nationals second baseman Danny Espinosa for the most among NL rookies.
Uggla gave the Braves a three-run advantage in the sixth inning when he deposited his 30th homer of the season deep over the left-field wall and onto Waveland Ave. After struggling to find consistency through the season's first three months, the veteran second baseman now has his fifth consecutive 30-homer season.
Still riding the momentum of a 33-game hitting streak that ended against the Cubs on Aug. 14, Uggla has reached the 30-homer mark faster than ever before. This was the Braves' 129th game. He had not previously hit the mark before his team's 142nd game.
Last year, Uggla became the first second baseman in Major League history to record four 30-homer seasons. Rogers Hornsby, Jeff Kent, Alfonso Soriano and Chase Utley are the only other Major Leaguers to record three 30-homer seasons as a second baseman.
"That's why you play the full season," Uggla said. "That's why you keep working and stay positive. You never know what can happen."
Along with power, the Braves also conquered Dempster with the speed Jose Constanza provided before exiting in the sixth inning with a slight right ankle sprain. He turned the ankle crossing first base while recording an infield single to cap his two-hit performance. The Braves are hoping to spend just a couple days without Constanza, who aided this victory when he singled to open the third inning, moved to second with a stolen base, raced to third on Jurrjens' sacrifice bunt, and scored on a Martin Prado grounder.
The early lead provided some comfort for Jurrjens, who issued two walks and allowed a single to load the bases in the first inning. He escaped that jam unscathed, with help from shortstop Alex Gonzalez, who grabbed Marlon Byrd's hot grounder and threw to second base to begin a double play.
"I just wanted to get out of that [first] inning to build my confidence," Jurrjens said. "I think my confidence was down. Going into the seventh inning again was really a momentum builder. I'm going to keep growing from this outing and trying to get better."
Jurrjens struck out Carlos Pena to end the third inning with a pair of runners on base, and then pitched around Soriano's one-out double in the fourth inning.
The Cubs made some noise with three consecutive two-out singles in the fifth, but after third-base coach Ivan DeJesus chose to hold Pena at third base on Byrd's single, the threat died with Soriano's lazy fly ball to right field.
"[We had] plenty of opportunities, we were just looking for the big hit. ... It's always good if you can do some damage early, and we couldn't," Cubs manager Mike Quade said. "We created plenty of opportunities -- that's for sure."
Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.