The Cubs have not won a road series since mid-May and they haven’t won a series at an NL Central opponent all season (0-7-1). That must change starting tonight in Pittsburgh, no other way to put it. Jason Heyward will try to get things going in center field as he returns to the lineup after missing the last two starts with a balky knee.
Nicholas Castellanos follows in right, then it’s Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo at the infield corners with Javy Báez at short. Kyle Schwarber is in left, Jonathan Lucroy is catching, and Tony Kemp will bat ninth at second base.
Given Joe Maddon‘s propensity for starting guys who’ve just been called up or acquired, not to mention Javy’s illness and the poor play up the middle last night, everything pointed to Addison Russell getting a start. Or maybe I just misinterpreted the signs.
Despite going 6-foot-5 and around a deuce and a half, Joe Musgrove isn’t a very imposing pitcher. His heater is a pedestrian 92-93 mph and he’s allowed 18 earned runs and seven homers in his last four starts. The big righty has limited the Cubs this season, however, holding them to just two unearned runs on five hits over 9.1 innings. He’s also struck out 10 with two walks in that time.
Musgrove’s slider does all the heavy lifting, particularly against righties, with the curve and change serving as legit factors against lefties. He’s also got a sinker and cutter, though neither has served as much more than sequence pitches to fill in gaps between his stronger offerings. As you might expect, the strength of his slider has allowed Musgrove to hold right-handed hitters down a little. Lefties, on the other hand, have posted an .848 OPS and .351 wOBA so far.
Cubs righties need to remain vigilant against the slider because it’ll sweep out of the zone and can can result in walks. Then the lefties can mash those runners home, or at least that seems like a good plan. Even though he doesn’t walk many, Musgrove doesn’t work in the zone a lot and will try to get hitters to chase. Those pitchers have been hell on the Cubs this season, so they’ll need to change their MO tonight.
Speaking of changing thinks up, Kyle Hendricks has been throwing more fastballs up in the zone this season to counteract some of the launch-angle trend. He missed his spots badly last week in Cincinnati, though, hanging pitches right over the heart of the plate and just getting destroyed as a result. The -5 game score was easily the worst of his season, so a bounceback should be in order.
First pitch from PNC Park is at 6:05pm CT on WGN and 670 The Score.
— Chicago Cubs (@Cubs) August 16, 2019