The Cubs have lost three straight, including the first two of this series to the Phillies, and things aren’t looking quite as rosy as when they won the opener in London to give them 11 wins in 13 games. Their pitching hasn’t been sharp, but the offense has been erratic as well and it looks like perhaps the hype and pageantry of their series across the pond drained their emotional batteries a bit.
Kyle Hendricks is hoping to provide a little boost on Thursday as he pitches for the first time in eight days. That’s a pretty long layoff, though it’s nothing compared to the gap he had due to his shoulder issues. After giving up seven earned runs over his first three starts, The Professor has allowed just three earned over his last three to bring his season ERA to a sparkling 2.60 mark.
The biggest difference over the past few seasons is that he’s only given up one homer in 34.2 innings, which has allowed him to overcome a career-low swinging-strike rate. Hendricks’ inability to put hitters away may be concerning, but it’s also helping him to be more efficient. His average of 5.78 innings per start is his highest since the abbreviated 2020 season and it all comes from limiting hard contact.
He’ll need to do more of the same tonight against a Phillies team that has made a lot of loud noises so far in the series. The offense is going to need to give their starter a little help as well, which starts with Mike Tauchman in right and Nico Hoerner at second. Chris Morel is the DH, Ian Happ is in left, Dansby Swanson is the shortstop, and Cody Bellinger is in center for the first time since coming back from a knee injury. Miguel Amaya is the catcher, Jared Young is at first, and Nick Madrigal is at third.
Going for Philly is 30-year-old Taijuan Walker, who got a no-decision in a 2-1 win over the Cubs back on May 21. The righty has been on a real tear lately, allowing just two total runs over his last four starts, all wins. He’s given up just 14 hits over those 26 innings, and seven of those knocks came in one game. Walker struck out eight with no walks in that one, however, so the hits really didn’t matter.
After giving up eight homers in his first seven starts, Walker has seen just three balls clear the fence the last nine times he’s taken the mound. That’s a function of leaning very heavily into the sinker/splitter combo that makes up 60% of his pitches on the season. The Cubs saw about 41% splitters in that previous matchup and could see at least as many tonight.
That offspeed pitch has led Walker to reverse splits throughout his career and that remains the case this year, though something changes for him when he’s on the road. His ERA of 2.13 in Philly jumps to 5.76 as a visitor and his wOBA allowed goes from .243 to .350, a huge difference. Left-handed batters carry a .362 wOBA against Walker in their home parks, better than their right-handed counterparts.
The Cubs may need to exploit that trend tonight because their righties did pretty much all the work last time out, collecting both hits (Swanson, Seiya Suzuki) Walker allowed. They also need to be better on the bases, as both Tauchman and Swanson were picked off to stifle would-be rallies before they even started.
First pitch from Wrigley is at 7:05pm CT (weather permitting) on Marquee and 670 The Score.
Here is tonight's #Cubs starting lineup for NASCAR Night!
— Chicago Cubs (@Cubs) June 29, 2023