It’s probably not very fair to ascribe too much additional importance to this game, but it’s kind of important to get out to a good start in the first of five contests in three days. Even if that’s more on the pitchers than the hitters, since the staff will be taxed to a greater degree than the lineup, beating up on Cards pitching could put the visitors on tilt.
The Cubs are stacking up righty hitters against a southpaw, starting with Kris Bryant in left. Anthony Rizzo is the lone lefty batter, followed by Javy Báez and Willson Contreras. David Bote is at third, Steven Souza Jr. is in right, Josh Phegley is the DH, Albert Almora Jr. is in center, and Nico Hoerner is at second.
Update: Souza has been scratched with right hamstring tightness, so Ian Happ has taken his place and will bat fifth. Bote moves to sixth and the rest of the order remains the same.
There’s no better way to start the series than with Kyle Hendricks on the mound at home, where he’s consistently pitched like an ace. Doing so again in this one would allow Davis Ross to go with Johnny Wholestaff tonight, or would at least limit the need to lean on a spot starter for too many innings.
Opposing the Cubs will be a pitcher I’d stumped for them to pursue this winter, longtime KBO veteran Kwang Hyun Kim. The 32-year-old lefty joined the Cardinals on a two-year, $8 million contract after 12 years in South Korea, but this will just be his first MLB start. Viewed as “a good mid- to back-end starter” by scouts, Kim has had very little opportunity to show what he’s got against MLB competition.
His only other appearance came back on Opening Day, when he pitched one inning against the Pirates and allowed two runs, one earned, without logging a strikeout or issuing a walk to the five batters he faced. That means he got three outs via contact, but it also means everyone put the bat on the ball. Four of those batters made hard contact, which could portend good things for the Cubs.
Kim went 17-6 with a 2.51 ERA in 2019 and finished second in KBO with 180 strikeouts, many of which came on his “tilt-a-whirl” slider. His fastball can touch mid-90’s but sits around 92 and he can locate it very well. After averaging somewhere around 4.0 BB/9 over his first eight seasons, topping out at 5.4 in 2011, Kim’s walk rates have decreased dramatically over the last four and he was at just 1.8 BB/9 last season.
The fastball/slider combo accounts for around 90% of his pitches, with a curve and change making up the rest in equal portions, so his pitch mix is really more similar to that of a reliever. Factor in the lack of experience and you’ve got a recipe for a short outing. However, we’ve seen before how the Cubs can be flummoxed by pitchers on whom they don’t have much of a book.
First pitch for this first game is set for 4:15pm CT on Marquee Sports Network and 670 The Score.
Let's play two!
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— Chicago Cubs (@Cubs) August 17, 2020