Update: While Almora was initially scheduled to start in center, he has been scratched due to illness and has been replaced by Ian Happ.
Oh, that wily Joe Maddon is up to his tricks again. With a reverse-split pitcher on the mound and Anthony Rizzo on the DL, this lineup is shifting like a big rig driving through mountainous terrain.
Albert Almora Jr. is leading off in center even with a righty starting, which is nice to see. Tommy La Stella is batting second and playing third, but don’t worry about Kris Bryant being out as a result. The Cubs’ best player is moving across the diamond in this one to play first base.
Willson Contreras is catching and cleaning up, Kyle Schwarber is in left, Addison Russell is at short, and Javy Baez is at second. Jason Heyward rounds out the order in right. Other than not being a fan of La Stella’s arm at third, I dig this overall lineup.
Yu Darvish will make his third career start at Wrigley and his first as a member of the home team. His first start in the Friendly Confines was just his fourth after coming back from Tommy John surgery and came more than a month after his previous start. That’s apropos of nothing, but dropping trivial facts like that are part of why I like writing these lineup posts.
His second start, as you (and Yu) may recall, took place in Game 3 of the 2017 NLCS. Darvish absolutely mopped the floor with the Cubs in that one, giving up a home run by Kyle Schwarber for the only real blemish on his box score. I think fans would live with a redux of that effort this afternoon. Darvish shutting down the Braves, I mean, not the Cubs pooping the bed.
It’s a bit of poetic irony that the man facing a Cubs team now known for landing every big free agent they covet stands as the example of just how bad they were a few years ago. Anibal Sanchez would have been a big signing for Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer early in their Cubs tenure, but he spurned them and they turned instead to Edwin Jackson.
And to think, that was seen by some at the time of a sign of things to come. Yeah, about that…
In any case, the 34-year-old Sanchez is now pitching for the Braves and has gotten pretty decent results through two appearances so far. He’s got a 2.25 ERA and has struck out eight in as many innings, but he’s also given up eight hits and has walked five. Based on recent history, the righty’s mediocrity is probably going to catch up to him.
Sanchez has made 90 appearances (69 starts) since 2015, posting a 5.61 ERA and 5.00 FIP in that time. He’s still able to miss bats (8.18 K/9) and doesn’t walk many (2.89 BB/9), but he’s prone to giving up the longball (1.83 HR/9). Nearly 82 percent of the contact he allows is of the medium or hard variety and over 60 percent of that is in the air.
Though none of his pitches stands out as particularly scary, Sanchez does have a broad, balanced repertoire. He’ll throw his four-seam and change with the most frequency, but is very comfortable with the slider, sinker, and curve as well. He’s also been working more with the cutter, which could see even more usage than ever this season as a way to combat decreasing velocity.
Sanchez is a mildly reverse-split pitcher, allowing better numbers — particularly slugging — to righties over the course of his career. He’s also been significantly worse on the road, allowing at least 30 more points in each segment of his opponents’ slash line and wOBA. This all bodes well for the Cubs given their up-and-down production thus far and the fact that they laid an egg yesterday.
First pitch from Wrigley will be at 1:20pm CT and can be seen on NBC Sports Chicago and MLB Network (out-of-network viewers only). As always, you can hear Pat and Ron on 670 The Score.
— Chicago Cubs (@Cubs) April 13, 2018