After taking the series opener Friday night, the Cubs have a chance to really distance themselves from the NL Central in today’s twin bill. They weren’t able to sweep either of the doubleheaders they had to play against St. Louis the last time around, though something tells me this time around will be different.
Ian Happ is back in the lineup after leaving Thursday’s game early and sitting Friday with a bruise he suffered when a foul ball bounced up and hit him near the eye. He leads off in center, followed by Kris Bryant at third and Anthony Rizzo at first. Javy Báez plays short and Kyle Schwarber is the DH.
Then it’s Willson Contreras behind the plate, Jason Heyward in right, Steven Souza Jr. in left, and Nico Hoerner at second. It’s interesting that Manager David has a couple of right-handed bats there with a righty on the mound, but perhaps there’s a trick to his thinking.
On the mound for the Cubs is Adbert Alzolay, who’s finally getting a shot to have a lasting impact now that the starting rotation has been depleted by injuries. He dominated the Cards in his first outing of the season during the second half of the second of those aforementioned doubleheaders. Alzolay has struck out eight with just two walks in six innings, and he’s doing it with a distinctly different repertoire from what we’ve seen in the past.
The fastball and curve have always been his go-to pitches and he’s been working for years to develop the changeup, but now he’s throwing a sinker with very high frequency. Not only has the pitch been effective in and of itself, but it has similar spin to the changeup and makes the offspeed stuff more potent as a result. Look for Alzolay to change speeds and use that hook to get swinging strikeouts.
On the mound for the Pirates is familiar nemesis Adam Wainwright, who missed the Cubs the last time around. He’s still working that same curve/cutter/sinker mix, with a few fastballs and changeups mixed in for good measure. I’d love to look at his 2.65 ERA and say it’s a fluke, but he’s done a great job of limiting line drives and hard contact so far.
What’s more, ol’ Waino is being more aggressive than ever with first-pitch strikes and his 10.5% swinging-strike rate would be the highest of his career if he maintains it. His overall strikeout percentage is actually lower than his career average, which tells you he’s being very intentional about trying to fool batters early and that he doesn’t necessarily have put-away stuff.
He did register nine strikeouts in his last start, a complete game, but he’s also given up a homer in each of his last three outings and is generally letting hitters elevate the ball. As great as it would be for the Cubs to take advantage of that, he’s pitching really well and isn’t likely to be a pushover. If anyone’s going to get to Wainwright, Heyward’s is a good bet. The hot-hitting right fielder has a .924 OPS with a homer in 36 at-bats. Happ and Contreras each have two homers in their previous matchups, so keep that in mind as well.
First pitch of the first game is at 4:15pm CT on Marquee Sports Network, MLB Network (out of market), and 670 The Score.
— Chicago Cubs (@Cubs) September 5, 2020