Rafael Ortega mans his traditional spot in center and bats leadoff, followed by Frank Schwindel at first and Ian Happ in left. Patrick Wisdom is at thirst, er, third, and batting cleanup while Matt Duffy handles second base. Jason Heyward is in right, Robinson Chirinos is the catcher, and Sergio Alcántara is the shortstop.
Keegan Thompson is on the mound for the third time as an MLB starter and he’s coming off of a pretty poor effort last time out against the White Sox. He lasted just two innings in that one, facing 14 batters and allowing five total runs with one strikeout and two walks. Thompson also had two walks and one K in his first start and he’s allowed five hits in both, so he’ll need to be better tonight against a very weak Pirates lineup.
Righty Mitch Keller is making his third start of the season against the Cubs, the first two of which were actually his first two starts of the year back in April. He was pretty shaky in that initial outing, allowing three earned runs over three innings due to walking four and giving up a homer as one of two hits. Keller cleaned a lot of things up six days later and allowed just one run on five hits and a walk in five innings.
Mainly a fastball/slider guy, he’ll lean on the four-seam for a little over 57% of his pitches to set up the breaking ball for another 23% of the time. The curve gets regular usage at 15% and he’ll round things out with a changeup that grades out as his worst pitch. All of Keller’s offerings have cost the Pirates runs this season, leading to a 6.75 ERA that has been boosted by a whopping .373 BABIP.
Some might see that and think Keller has been the victim of tremendously bad luck, but it’s more a product of leaving way too many fat pitches in the zone. His hard contact rate of 49.1% is second-highest among pitchers with at least 70 innings, and we all know hard-hit balls are more likely to land for hits. He’s surrendered at least six hits in each of his last five starts and has given up five or more hits in 11 of 17 starts.
Keller has also walked a lot of batters, issuing three or more free passes eight separate times. Between all those baserunners from walks and hits, all 54 runs he has allowed have been earned. A lot of that comes from his performance against left-handed batters, who carry a .350 average and .414 wOBA against the 25-year-old this season. However, he’s been very good against righties and has limited them to a great degree when he pitches on the road.
For whatever reason, Keller has kept righty batters to a .213 average with a .290 wOBA when he’s the visitor. He hasn’t had to deal with Frank the Tank yet, though, so those numbers are likely to spike when Schwindel has his way.
First pitch is at 7:05pm ET on Marquee and 670 The Score.
— Chicago Cubs (@Cubs) September 2, 2021