The Cubs lowered their magic number to one with last night’s 10-0 rout, so they’ve got a chance to lock up the division one way or another in this one. It’s not going to be easy to take care of business on their own against a Sox team that absolutely destroys lefties, but maybe this game breaks some trends.
Ian Happ leads off in center, Anthony Rizzo is at first, Willson Contreras catches, and Jason Heyward cleans up. Kris Bryant makes his return to the lineup playing third, Kyle Schwarber is in left, and Javy Báez is at short. Jason Kipnis at second and Victor Caratini round out the order.
Jon Lester was embarrassed by the Sox last month, allowing eight earned runs on nine hits over just 3.2 innings. Four of those hits cleared the ivy-covered outfield wall at Wrigley and led to a lopsided game. That Lester has to be much better is a given, though just being better might not be good enough. He may have to be great in this game to keep a powerful lineup at bay.
Facing the Cubs is rookie righty Dane Dunning, behind whom the Sox are 5-1 this season. The 25-year-old has struck out 33 with just 10 walks in 31 innings, though his performances haven’t been all that consistent. If that pattern holds, he’s due for a really good outing after allowing four earned runs in as many innings at Cleveland last time out.
The strikeout numbers and his 6-foot-4, 200-pound frame make you think Dunning’s a power pitcher, but he’s a sinker-baller who lives in the low 90’s with his hard stuff. His success comes from throwing strikes and getting ahead, at which point he can unleash either a slider or curve that both grade out very well. Dunning has been hell on righties so far, limiting them to just a .346 OPS and .163 wOBA.
The good news is that he’s been much tougher against righties on the road, the bad news is that he’s better overall at home. When pitching on the South Side, Dunning has a 2.20 ERA and holds opponents to a .140/.210/.263 slash with 21 strikeouts and just four walks in 16.1 innings. Barring a drastic shift in performance, the Cubs may have to wait him out and get to the bullpen.
Then again, maybe they’ll be able to carry over some of last night’s momentum into what should be a more aggressive plate approach in this one. They can’t count on walks and they don’t want to deal with the breaking stuff, so it might be a good idea to sit on that sinker and look to do damage early in counts.
The Cubs will lock up the Central with either a win or a Cardinals loss, so there may be reason to celebrate — or just exhale — one way or the other. First pitch is at 6:10pm CT on Marquee, NBC Sports Chicago, 670 The Score, and WGN 720.
Let's win a ballgame. pic.twitter.com/LrwVs4Ypbr
— Chicago Cubs (@Cubs) September 26, 2020