Anthony Rizzo is leading off the first game of the season’s final road trip, followed by Nicholas Castellanos in right and Ben Zobrist at second. Kyle Schwarber is in left, Willson Contreras is catching, and Ian Happ is at third. Then it’s Jason Heyward in center and Nico Hoerner at short.
They’ll be going up against Mitch Keller, a 23-year-old righty against whom they scored six earned runs a little over a month ago. He’s actually given up at least that many in four of his 10 starts, hence the unsightly 7.74 ERA. Keller has racked up 58 strikeouts over 43 innings (12.14 K/9) and has never walked more than two in a game, but he’s been tagged for a lot of hits.
An incredibly high .476 BABIP against tells us that there may be some bad luck involved here, so let’s just hope the correction doesn’t come tonight. Keller has the kind of profile the Cubs like, pumping a lot of mid-90’s heat and working the zone heavily. His fastball sets up a slider, curve, and change, none of which have been great this season. The slider is his best pitch, but it’s not good enough to offset the others.
Keller has been much better at home, though, holding opponents to numbers that are at least 120 points lower in every slash category than when he pitches on the road. Even then, we’re talking about giving up a .790 OPS with a .331 wOBA. The Cubs can and should get to the rookie in this one, but do they have the will?
Kyle Hendricks is making what figures to be his last start of the season and he’s had issues of his own on the road to this point. That wasn’t the case the last time he pitched in Pittsburgh, holding the Pirates to one run on three hits. He only struck out one batter in seven innings, but that’s all he needed.
If the Pirates are still mailing it in like they were when these teams last met, Hendricks will carve them up. It sure would be nice to start the last week of Cubs baseball off on a high note.
First pitch from PNC Park is at 6:05pm CT on NBC Sports Chicago and 670 The Score.
— Chicago Cubs (@Cubs) September 24, 2019