Just a few days ago, the Cubs were a game away from getting their first sweep of the season as they had the Pirates down 2-0 in that series. Now they’re just hoping to salvage a single win against the Diamondbacks after dropping the first three games in highly disappointing fashion. Feel free to quibble with the level of disappointment you can still feel for this team, I guess it’s just more that they aren’t even playing the way we thought they would.
By that I mean pounding out base hits with relative frequency and playing the kind of station-to-station baseball that shouldn’t be quite as subject to the whims of weather and opponents. Oh well, I suppose it’s actually better if you turn off the expectations and just let things play out.
That’s a little easier with Wade Miley on the mound because he got a late start and thus managed to avoid most of the hype that might otherwise have surrounded him. Not that the soft-tossing lefty was ever viewed as some sort of savior, mind you, though picking him up when the Reds dumped him looked at the time like a sign that the Cubs were going to spend on at least a quasi-contender.
Miley was nearly perfect in his last start, tossing seven shutout innings with just one hit and striking out six while walking none. That’s a far cry from his Cubs debut in which he walked five with one strikeout and allowed three runs over as many innings. Going deep again and giving the bullpen a break would be ideal.
Spotting the southpaw a few runs would be nice too, especially if the Cubs can figure out how to keep adding throughout the game. Rafael Ortega will get the action started in center, then it’s Jonathan Villar at second, Seiya Suzuki in right, and Ian Happ in left. Patrick Wisdom is at third, Frank Schwindel is the DH, and Alfonso Rivas is at first.
Andrelton Simmons is the shortstop and P.J. Higgins is up from Iowa to take the start at catcher for Willson Contreras, who left Saturday’s game with a hamstring issue. Contreras is still considered day-to-day, so Ildemaro Vargas was DFA’d to make room on the roster.
They’ll be facing righty Merrill Kelly, who has stumbled a bit in his last two starts after opening with a very impressive run. Kelly gave up just five earned runs over 37 innings in his first 6 starts but has allowed 11 earned over his last seven innings. Eight of those came against the Dodgers his last time out, with five hits and four walks doing him in.
Kelly has walked two or more batters six separate times this season and he’s given up at least six hits in four games, so the Cubs should be able to get baserunners. He has only surrendered two homers, one in each of the last two games, so that whole moving the line thing might have to happen in this one. The Diamondbacks believe they’ve identified a potential pitch-tipping issue, though, so we could see a better version of Kelly this afternoon.
He can baffle hitters when he’s on because he’s got a very balanced repertoire, varying speed and location just enough to keep pitches from getting barreled up. What I find most interesting is that he’s got a very firm changeup that sits just above 88 mph with a fastball that’s just 92-93. His cutter is around 91 and his sinker is the same velo as the four-seam, so that’s roughly 87% of his pitches within 5 mph.
The curve is the outlier here, but he’s throwing it a lot less this season as the change has gotten better results. His splits got a little out of whack due to those two homers coming from left-handed hitters, thus vastly improving their slugging, but Kelly is pretty strong against hitters from both sides.
He doesn’t miss many bats, generating swinging strikes at a 9.2% clip that is two full points below league average, and he’s right at the average when it comes to called strikes. That should mean Cubs hitters will have a chance to put a lot of balls in play, so this game could come down to them being able to square a few up early before Kelly can settle in.
First pitch from Wrigley is at 1:20pm CT on Marquee Sports Network and 670 The Score.
— Chicago Cubs (@Cubs) May 22, 2022