Ian Happ took the reins of the leadoff role right from the start of spring training and refused to hand them over to anyone, so he’s right there at the top of the order to open the 2018 season. He’ll be followed by Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo, the latter of whom will surely be in for an emotional homecoming.
Bryant finished the spring batting .366 with 11 strikeouts against nine walks, but had only one home run. The power will come, so that’s nothing to worry about it. What’s most important is that KB continues to bring that K/BB ratio closer to 1:1, which would put him among an elite group of hitters.
Willson Contreras will bat cleanup, a role in which he excelled last season. Kyle Schwarber, who has looked better in every facet of the game throughout March, is hitting fifth. That top five is enough to make any pitcher act like Dodger Stadium, and then they’ve still got to face more hitters.
Addison Russell bats sixth as he looks to find that consistent groove that has escaped him thus far in his career. A return to full health and maintaining good mechanics will be key for him this season. Jason Heyward bats seventh and is truly the only batter in the order who doesn’t really scare anyone. Javy Baez offers a dynamic force in the eight-hole and will display some interesting swing changes that he adopted this spring.
Jon Lester will be on the bump in a move that’s more about seniority than talent at this point, though he should still have more than enough of the latter to handle a Marlins roster that’s bad enough without injuries depleting it further. The big southpaw has lost a few ticks on the fastball, but he may look to offset that by going with even more offspeed stuff. We saw him tinkering with the changup a little more than usual at least once this spring, so keep an eye out for that.
The Cubs will be facing 26-year-old Jose Urena, who enters the season as a full-time starter for the first time in his young career. Over parts of the last three seasons with the Marlins, the righty has made 82 total appearances, 49 of which have been starts. He’s compiled a 4.71 ERA that’s closely mimicked by a 4.96 FIP, but those marks were 3.82 and 5.20 last year, respectively.
Ureña boasts a big fastball that that he can run up to the plate in the upper 90’s, offsetting it with a plus slider and a solid change that both generate a lot of ugly swings. In two starts against the Cubs last season, Ureña went 11 total innings, surrendering only three runs (all earned, all in one game) on eight hits with eight strikeouts and six walks.
That latter bit will be important, as Urena isn’t a big strikeout guy — which is weird given the relative success with those aforementioned pitches — and can get a little wild from time to time. That probably isn’t going to play well against a team as patient as the Cubs. The Marlins starter isn’t likely to challenge Happ right away, though I’d be surprised if the newly-minted leadoff hitter goes up there looking to walk. After all, Urena allowed higher slugging and wOBA numbers to lefties at home than he did any other platoon split.
I’m calling a homer on the third pitch of the game, mark the tape.
First pitch is set for 11:40am CT and can seen on WGN (or whatever local affiliate may be syndicating it) and ESPN (out-of-market only). As always, the radio broadcast can be heard on 670 The Score.
— Chicago Cubs (@Cubs) March 29, 2018