The Chicago Cubs are back at it tonight – and with Kris Bryant back in the lineup, no less! – against Chad Kuhl and the Pirates. Here’s how David Ross chose to line up his team with a couple returning faces (Bryant, Steven Souza Jr.) and a couple new guys at his disposal (Jose Martinez, Cameron Maybin) – more on the roster news in a second.
Chicago Cubs Lineup:
1. Ian Happ, CF
2. Kris Bryant, 3B
3. Anthony Rizzo, 1B
4. Javy Baez, SS
5. Kyle Schwarber, LF
6. Willson Contreras, C
7. Jason Heyward, RF
8. Jose Martinez, DH
9. Jason Kipnis, 2B
Before we get into the lineup, I want to point out that Chad Kuhl’s 2.52 ERA looks a lot more formidable than his underlying performance seems to indicate (2.52 FIP). For starters, a 20.6% strikeout rate and 11.3% walk rate is not all that intimidating, especially with a 41.5% fly ball rate and 43.9% hard-hit rate. Another sign of opportunity is his 8.2 barrels per plate appearance, which is the 36th highest mark among all qualified pitchers in the league.
The Cubs could fall victim to the BABIP gods, who’ve shined brightly on Kuhl this year (.180 BABIP), but I wouldn’t count on that to last forever. He’s extremely beatable and the Cubs could do plenty of damage with this admittedly impressive lineup (well … on paper!).
Now, with that said, there are some big changes to the lineup today (which is not something we can say often for David Ross’ Cubs). Most notably, despite Kris Bryant’s return to the lineup, Ian Happ is still leading off. Given how much success Happ has had there and how little success Bryant seemed to have in that role, this is the right call. In fact, Bryant’s injury and time off was kind of the perfect cover to end that experiment – the Cubs can make the change without making it seem like a demotion. How could we possibly mess with Happ right now?!
Beyond that, a lot has changed.
Bryant is batting second, not Rizzo, which is a bit surprising, because that means Javy Baez, not Kyle Schwarber, is batting cleanup. I would’ve flipped Rizzo and Bryant so I could also flip Schwarber and Baez, but the Cubs don’t pay me to make those decisions. I’ll defer to Ross for now and hope Baez is ready to bounce back fully.
Willson Contreras and Jason Heyward follow Baez, as expected, but then BOOM: Jose Martinez gets his first start as the Cubs DH and against a righty, no less. I figured we’d see him against more than lefties, but I didn’t think that it’d happen right away (especially not with a lefty on the mound tomorrow anyway). Jason Kipnis rounds out the group and Jon Lester is on the mound.
Some small squabbling aside, this is a pretty legit looking lineup. I hope they can do what it takes as they enter the most important stretch of the season.
As usual, we’ll have your full Pre-Gamin’ post closer to game time (6:05 CT).