The Cubs got off to a pretty inauspicious start to the second half by giving up six homers to a team that came into the game with just 94 total dingers. Four of those longballs were surrendered by Kyle Hendricks, who has now given up six in his last two starts after seeing just two balls clear the fence over his first eight appearances. The regression monster runs fast and has sharp teeth.
Marcus Stroman knows that all too well, as he’s given up 15 runs (12 earned) over his last three starts. Trey Mancini only bears the blame for part of that from the second London game, but errors don’t explain why Stro has 15 strikeouts with seven walks in that same span. He’s also been tagged for 17 hits in 14 innings, not exactly ace-like production.
He chose not to pitch in the All-Star game in favor of a little extra rest, which was probably a good idea, so it’s been nine days since he last pitched. The Cubs desperately need to get the best possible version of Stroman in this one regardless of how you view his future with the team. Even if he’s not at his best, it’d be good to not put his offense in an early hole
Nico Hoerner is back up in the leadoff spot at short in this one and he figures to be there tomorrow as well because Dansby Swanson is still experiencing pain when he runs and isn’t likely to be activated as soon as he’s eligible. Seiya Suzuki is in right, Ian Happ is in left, and the smoking-hot Cody Bellinger moves to the number four spot playing center.
Yan Gomes is behind the dish, Mancini is at first as the Cubs continue to search for someone who can handle that spot regularly, Christopher Morel is at second, and Miguel Amaya is the DH. Patrick Wisdom is at third because Morel still can’t be trusted at the hot corner and Nick Madrigal remains on the IL. Madrigal did a little running in the outfield prior to the game and it’s possible he is sent out on a rehab assignment before the Cubs hit the road again.
They’ll be facing big lefty James Paxton, who I had honestly forgotten was still playing. After several strong seasons for the Mariners and Yankees, Paxton had a very rough 2020 campaign in which a microscopic lumbar discectomy to remove a peridiscal cyst limited him to just five starts. He signed back with Seattle for the ’21 season but recorded just four outs on 24 pitches before leaving with elbow pain and eventually undergoing reconstruction.
After missing all of the ’22 season due to elbow rehab, he began this season on the IL due to a hamstring strain and was finally activated in May. This will be Paxton’s 11th start of the season and he’s looked as good as ever so far, posting a 2.73 ERA with strikeout and walk numbers that are better than his career averages.
The 34-year-old’s fastball velocity is right around 96 mph, which is as hard as he’s thrown since 2017, and he loves to tail it across the plate to bust righties in on the hands. That pitch makes up almost 60% of his repertoire, with the cutter (19%), curve (18%), and change (6%) filling out the rest. The cutter has enough movement to be called a slider by some services and it can end up anywhere from left-handed chin music to back-footing righties.
The curve is a pretty traditional yakker that breaks down to the bottom of the zone, though he can leave it up from time to time for get-me-over strikes. The changeup falls off the table and rarely lands in the zone. Not that Paxton is too worried about called strikes because he’s able to get more than enough whiffs. That’s especially true against righties since he’s always been a reverse-split guy and is even more so this year.
Paxton is holding right-handed batters to a .171 average with a 32.4% K-rate and .234 wOBA, while left-handed hitters are batting .304 with an 18% K-rate and .348 wOBA. Good thing the Cubs only have one left-handed hitter in there, though it’s not like David Ross has many options in that regard. Still, it’s weird to have had Mike Tauchman and Miles Mastrobuoni playing last night and not this afternoon.
I really hope this is one of those situations where we can all laugh at my silliness in worrying about platoon splits instead of me sitting here saying I told you so. First pitch from Wrigley is at 1:20pm CT on Marquee and 670 The Score.
Here is today's #Cubs starting lineup at Wrigley Field!
— Chicago Cubs (@Cubs) July 15, 2023