The Cubs haven’t just won back-to-back games against the Rays; they won back-to-back ONE-RUN games against the Rays. And one of those wins required four shutdown innings from the bullpen!
And although I’m still greedy for the series sweep today, you’ve got to be happy with this series win over Tampa Bay. The Cubs have now taken series wins against the Rays, Mets, Padres, Rangers, Mariners, and Dodgers. Of course, they also have series losses to the Marlins, Nationals, Cardinals, and Reds…but let’s choose happiness today.
Here’s a look at the Chicago Cubs lineup for the finale against the Rays at Wrigley Field.
Chicago Cubs Lineup:
- Nico Hoerner, DH
- Dansby Swanson, SS
- Ian Happ, LF
- Seiya Suzuki, RF
- Mike Tauchman, CF
- Matt Mervis, 1B
- Patrick Wisdom, 3B
- Miles Mastrobuoni, 2B
- Tucker Barnhart, C
With the day game following the night game — plus, a righty on the mound after a lefty last night — I’m not at all surprised to see Tucker Barnhart in there behind the plate. That’s what backup catchers do. But I am laughing that once again, Ross goes to the bench when Barnhart enters the Cubs lineup. It’s just his favorite thing in the world.
At least this time, it’s just the one player, Miles Mastrobuoni, who provides an extra lefty bat against Zach Eflin as well as some rest for Nico Hoerner, who’s still in the Cubs lineup, but as the DH.
Here’s the complicating factor, though. And it’s a familiar one. While today’s Rays starter, righty Zach Eflin, has traditional lefty/righty splits for his career (meaning lefties hit him better than righties), the opposite is true this season … and by a LOT:
vsLHP: .190/.229/.370 (.258 wOBA)
vsRHP: .282/.302/.429 (.316 wOBA)
Now, like last time, I’m sure David Ross would say “small sample, we’ll go with his career numbers.” And I get it. But here’s the thing. Eflin changed his pitch mix quite a bit over the last season. He’s completely abandoned his four-seamer (2.7% this year vs. 26.8% for his career), he’s adopted a cutter (31% vs 3.7%), he’s more than doubles his curve usage (25.6% vs 10.2%) and he’s done away with the slider (1.2% vs 20.9%).
I don’t know Eflin intimately enough to know that’s definitely what’s happening, but it’s not hard to imagine how the cutter would help him out against lefties. And the broader point here — and I’m sure the Cubs aren’t dumb enough to miss this — is you can’t juts go with his career numbers when there’s a change in his entire reportoire.
But even against all of that, I’m pretty cool with getting Nico Hoerner off his feet for a day, especially after he was so busy on defense last night. And it’s not like Morel hasn’t cooled off. Basically, it’s fine. It’s just not a slam dunk.
Tampa Bay Rays Lineup:
- Yandy Diaz, 1B
- Randy Arozarena, LF
- Harold Ramirez, DH
- Isaac Paredes, 3B
- Manuel Margot, RF
- Brandon Lowe, 2B
- Christian Bethancourt, C
- Taylor Walls, SS
- Jose Siri, CF
Chicago Cubs: Justin Steele, LHP
Justin Steele got roughed up by the Reds in his most recent start (on May 26), which was his worst of the season. Oh, and now that I look this up, how weird is this: That last start against the Reds was his worst by Game Score since his start against the Rays last season. And the only other start worse than that over these two seasons? Also against the Reds, also on May 26 of 2022. Weird. How about a bounce back against the league’s best offense, eh, Justin?
Tampa Bay Rays: Zach Eflin, RHP
Zach Eflin is the third straight excellent Rays starter the Cubs lineup will get this series. Seriously, it hasn’t been an easy matchup. But can he be the third straight to lose at Wrigley Field? Well, I’ll say this. While the overall numbers are pretty excellent across the board, and while he’s gone at least 6.0 full innings in each of his last five starts (with 31Ks against just 4 walks), Eflin isn’t Shane McClanahan. The command is pristine and the ground balls are way up, but he probably doesn’t deserve an 82.6% strand rate or a .280 BABIP with that strikeout rate and contact profile. Point being, the Cubs lineup should consider helping him regress back to the mean.
Chicago Cubs (24-30) vs Tampa Bay Rays (39-18) at 1:20 pm CT on MARQ, 670 The Score