ATLANTA—They wore Cubs uniforms, sat in the Cubs dugout and bore an eerie resemblance to the same players who have called themselves Cubs since Opening Day.
But after watching them pound Atlanta 15-6 only one day after a 16-2 victory over Florida, it was easy to wonder whether they actually were the same Cubs who began the day ranked 12th in the league in runs scored.
Moises Alou had five RBIs, Sammy Sosa and Alex Gonzalez both homered and drove in four runs apiece and Tom Goodwin went 5-for-6, improving to .368 since June 21.
"You don't find too many times where you get this many runs against this staff, or against Florida," Goodwin said. "It's good to come out and get that many runs, but the win is the most important thing."
In records dating back to the start of divisional play in 1969, the Cubs never have had back-to-back games with 20 or more hits. They also set a record for most hits against the Braves, surpassing a 19-hit effort on May 30, 1987.
The Cubs have won three straight for the first time since June 11, moving 3½ games behind first-place Houston. They snapped the Braves five-game winning streak and dealt them their second loss in 15 games.
Sosa handed the Cubs a quick 4-0 lead with a three-run home run off Shane Reynolds in the first and an RBI single in the second. But Shawn Estes continued to look like Shawn Estes, coughing the lead away in no time at all.
After a leadoff walk to Chipper Jones in the second, Estes served up back-to-back home runs to Andruw Jones and Javy Lopez to make it 4-3. Marcus Giles tied it up with a homer leading off the third and, three batters later, Andruw Jones doubled home Chipper Jones to put the Braves on top 5-4.
Since beating Baltimore on June 10, Estes is 0-3 with four no-decisions in his last seven starts, with a 7.86 earned-run average.
Atlanta looked like it was ready to bury the Cubs when the Braves loaded the bases off Estes with no one out in the fourth. But manager Dusty Baker finally had enough of his struggling left-hander, yanking him for Dave Veres, who escaped the jam with no runs scored.
"That was huge," Baker said.
"You look back and see all the hitting, see all the offense, but you have to see the job Veres did to put us in position."
Gonzalez's two-run homer off Reynolds gave the Cubs the lead again in the fifth, and Ramon Martinez's pinch-hit sacrifice off Trey Hodges made it 7-5 after the Cubs pulled off a double steal with one out.
Alou's two-run double and an RBI single by Gonzalez in the sixth increased the lead to 10-5, and the Cubs were home free.
They continued to pour it on against the Braves bullpen, adding two runs in the seventh and three in the eighth.
"We got some big two-out hits, and made some things happen," Baker said.
"For us to come in here and outscore the Braves was a very difficult thing to do."