Ben Zobrist is once again batting leadoff and playing second, followed by Nicholas Castellanos in right, Kris Bryant at third, and Kyle Schwarber in left. Then it’s Willson Contreras handling first base duties while Victor Caratini catches, both to give WillCo a little break and because of the battery situation.
Jason Heyward in center and Nico Hoerner at short complete the lineup, in as much as that can be the case with Anthony Rizzo and Javy Báez out. But the Cubs have adopted a next-man-up philosophy that won’t allow them to fret over missing two everyday players. That means doing the best the can in their own jerseys rather than wearing a fallen teammate’s uniform under their own like a ding-dong.
The Cubs are facing Sonny Gray, who has gotten better in each of his four previous starts against them this season. He’s thrown 23.1 total innings with seven earned runs, all of which came in the first three starts. Of note, all seven runs have come on five homers. If only the Cubs could get some men on base — they have only 13 total hits against Gray so far — maybe those homers would help.
With 28 strikeouts to just five walks, the Cubs aren’t doing a great job of making Gray work all that hard. Oddly enough, four of those five walks came in the only game that saw them fail to score against the 29-year-old righty. Much like his counterpart tonight, Gray has the ability to manipulate his various pitches and has altered his pitch mix a great deal in the four previous games to keep the Cubs guessing
Part of that could be due to the nature of pitch tracking and the way throws, but he threw the slider only 9% back on June 28 after going to it 34% on May 15. His curveball frequency was nearly the opposite in each game, so, again, could just be tracking. The slider was back up to 40% when he faced the Cubs on July 17, with the curve back at moderate usage, but Gray had ditched the changeup entirely.
That ability to change his style has allowed him to achieve really consistent results against the Cubs despite facing them somewhat frequently. But the issue for Gray has been costly mistakes that have led to the Cubs hitting all those homers despite not getting many hits or reaching base at a good clip. If they carry over some of that offense from the Pirates series, that could change in a big way.
Yu Darvish has alleviated any worries about his forearm tightness by looking as much like an ace as ever of late. His new knuckle curve works like the hard curve he used to throw prior to his 2015 elbow reconstruction and he’s already calling it his favorite pitch. The Reds haven’t seen it yet, so we’ll see how they fare.
First pitch is at 7:05pm CT on WCIU and ESPN (out-of-market), with 670 The Score on the radio call.
— Chicago Cubs (@Cubs) September 17, 2019