Chicago Cubs Lineup: Almora Leads Off, Russell Hits Second as Hendricks Starts Opener in San Francisco

Hey, have you missed the late-night starts since the Cubs got back from LA? If so, you’re in luck! Both tonight and Tuesday night will likely result in Weird Baseball for the folks in Central and Eastern time zones, then the Cubs head to San Diego for two more post-prime time matchups.

Albert Almora Jr. will lead things off for the Cubs and he’ll be followed by Addison Russell, who starts in the two-hole for the first time in his career. The two Cubs All-Stars on the positon-player side sandwich Anthony Rizzo to make up the middle of the lineup, with Javy Baez hitting third, Rizzo batting cleanup, and Willson Contreras batting out of the five-hole.

The Cubs lineup tonight is closed out by the versatility squad, with Ben Zobrist in right, David Bote at third, and Ian Happ in left. They’ll try to provide some solid run support and break a long-running streak of come-from-behind wins.

Kyle Hendricks takes the ball tonight with an eye toward improving his sinker command, which is the real bugaboo when you look at his disappointing performance thus far. His strikeouts are down, his walks are up, and he’s giving up dingers at an alarming rate. Despite all that, there’s reason to believe the former Cy Young contender can put things together in the second half of the season.

Hendricks’ velocity is fine and he doesn’t appear to be pitching with any serious mechanical flaws. It’s just that he’s leaving the ball up a little and it’s getting tagged. A tweak here or there could have him sliding right back into a more familiar pattern of production.

The Giants aren’t a very scary team in general, but they hit much better at home and still possess enough dangerous bats to give any pitcher trouble.

Trying to give those bats a little room will be rookie left-hander Andrew Suárez, who comes in with a 3.92 ERA (3.56 FIP) over 14 starts. He does a good job of keeping the ball on the ground and doesn’t walk many batters (1.73 BB/9), but over 81 percent of the contact he gives up is classified as medium or hard.

That’s why opposing hitters have a .323 BABIP and are averaging more than one homer per nine innings against him. Unfortunately for the Cubs, though, Suárez has been lights-out at home. He has limited opposing hitters to a .235/.259/.407 slash with a .285 wOBA and you can basically cut those numbers in half for lefties.

The 25-year-old has been money of late as well, limiting each of his last three opponents to one run apiece over a total of 18.2 innings. He struck out 15 and walked three over that same time, though he did allow 20 hits. Those were obviously scattered, since two solo homers accounted for most of the scoring against him.

If anything close to that trend continues, the Cubs will need to take advantage of whatever opportunities come their way. Suárez keeps hitters at bay with a four-seam/slider/sinker/curve/change mix that he locates down in the zone. Lefties won’t see the changeup, but they’ll get that nasty slidepiece about a third of the time. Not that it’ll matter much in this one, since Rizzo is the Cubs’ only left-handed bat.

Righties will see the four-seam most often, though the slider will drop in on them with much greater frequency if they get down in the count. You can basically throw the sinker and change out the window with two strikes, as Suárez tries to bury both the fastball and slider down and in.

This has the feel of one of those games the Cubs are going to have to grind through early on, hanging around until they can get to the bullpen. And now that I’ve written that, they’ll probably go crazy right from the start and hang crooked numbers like crazy.

First pitch is set for 9:15pm CT and can be seen on NBC Sports Chicago or MLB Network (out of market only). As always, you can listen along as Zach Zaidman laughs in the background at every joke Pat Hughes cracks on 670 The Score.

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