Chicago Cubs Lineup (7/19/21): Contreras Leads Off, Bryant in LF, Mills on Mound

Willson Contreras leads off tonight as the Cubs open their series in St. Louis, followed by Anthony Rizzo at first and Javier Baez at short. Kris Bryant is in left, Jason Heyward is in right, Patrick Wisdom is at third, and Rafael Ortega is in center. Eric Sogard will get at-bats while playing second base.

Alec Mills has been much better as a starter this season, putting up a 3.77 ERA with a 3.17 FIP that says he should be getting even better results. He has a 6.41 ERA and 5.61 FIP in 12 relief appearances, a result of walking more and striking out fewer batters while giving up a lot more contact. This will be his first time facing the Cards this season in any capacity, but they don’t score many runs and he always keeps the Cubs in the game.

Going for St. Louis is 24-year-old righty Jake Woodford, who is making his first start this season and just the second of his career. Though he’s worked almost exclusively as a starter in the minors, Woodford has made 29 relief appearances in the big leagues between 2020 and ’21.

He hasn’t appeared for the Cardinals since June 27 and was just called back up from Triple-A for this one after stretching back out with two starts for Memphis. Woodford hasn’t gone more than five innings in any game this season, so it’s unlikely he’ll go deep in this one unless the Cubs forget how to hit.

And we’re talking epic forgetfulness because Woodford isn’t particularly efficient, issuing 14 walks in 25.1 innings (4.97 BB/9) thus far. There is, however, a little cause for concern in that Woodford is very similar in his approach to Diamondbacks starter Merrill Kelly, who nearly completed Sunday’s game before he faded late.

Woodford has a 92 mph fastball/sinker combo that makes up nearly 60% of his repertoire, then he’ll go with a curve (17%), slider/cutter (23%), and a change (3%) for good measure. The sinker has been a good pitch for Kelly and the cutter has been very effective, much more so than either the slider or the curve. That’s likey because the cutter is thrown hard and has sharper movement than either of the other two breaking balls.

I’m really just scouting the stats here, but I wonder if he’s getting a little too passive with the slider and curve. He just incorporated the former this season according to some outlets, though some of that could be a matter of classification. Whatever the case, Woodford has had a really tough time with left-handed hitters this season after pitching to reverse splits last year.

The 55 lefty batters he’s faced to this point have compiled a .340 average with a 1.081 OPS and four of the five homers he’s allowed. They’ve also struck out 11 times with just four walks, while 62 righties have struck out and walked 10 times each. Well, 10 times in each category not 10 times for each batter. That’d be a boatload of walks and Ks.

By all accounts, this is a game in which the Cubs should be able to get runners on and get them in. Woodford has allowed a run in six of his last seven relief appearances for a total of seven runs in just 8.1 innings and he’s only struck out seven batters in his last 10 outings (13 IP). Mike Shildt is teeing this one up nicely for the Cubs, now it’s up to them to hit it.

First pitch is at 7:15pm CT on Marquee and 670 The Score.

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