The Cubs passed their first test by winning their opening series against the Brewers, including easy victories over two of the NL’s best starters. Now comes the hard part: beating a bad team on the road. That shouldn’t really be difficult, of course, but the Pirates have the feel of a scrappy squad that is just young and foolish enough to not realize they’re supposed to suck this year. If Bryan Reynolds and Ke’Bryan Hayes decide to show out, anything could happen in this short set.
Clint Frazier will lead this one off as the DH, followed by Willson Contreras behind the plate and Patrick Wisdom at third. Frank Schwindel cleans up at first base, Seiya Suzuki is in right, and Nick Madrigal moves down the six-hole while playing second base. Michael Hermosillo is in center, Ian Happ is in left, and Nico Hoerner is at short.
That means the Cubs have a lineup of all right-handed batters, the reason for which will be apparent in a few paragraphs.
Drew Smyly will make his long-awaited Cubs debut three years later than initially anticipated, and it’s reasonable to believe the lefty will be on a short leash. Smyly didn’t complete three innings in any of his three spring training starts and the bullpen is fully rested after off-days sandwiching the weekend. With the top of the rotation due up after this one, we could be looking at a quick hook even if Smyly is pitching well.
One thing to look for in this one is the changeup that had more or less disappeared over the last two seasons. If my suspicions are correct and it’s something of a split/Vulcan variety, Smyly could get better results against left-handed batters.
This will be the first most Cubs fans have seen of their team’s new southpaw, but they’re very familiar with the lefty who’ll be opposing him in this one. José Quintana joined the Pirates on a one-year, $2 million deal after splitting time between the Angels and Giants last year and he’s on the mound to face his old team. Unlike seemingly every other pitcher who leaves the Cubs, getting out of Chicago did not result in a rebound year for Q.
After nine starts to open the season, Quintana was placed on the IL with shoulder inflammation and missed about three weeks. Though he had been putting up a career-high 13.37 K/9 in that span, he was walking way too many batters and carried a 7.22 ERA. A move to the bullpen for the remainder of the season, save for one very brief start with the Giants, resulted in somewhat better overall performance.
That said, Quintana gave up seven homers and a .354 BABIP over his last 29.1 innings. His 5.52 ERA was better than in the early going, but that’s not a really high bar to clear. His fastball remained at a very consistent 91.6 mph and he threw it only slightly less than before, mainly as a result of dialing back his sinker usage. The changeup was thrown more and the curve slightly less than in 2020.
The issue for Q is that none of his pitches generated positive value last season, with the secondaries performing particularly poorly. Even though he stifled left-handed hitters to a greater extent than ever, he allowed righties to hit .344 with a 1.000 OPS. Not great when you’re a starter and can’t be leveraged for matchups. If he pitches today like he did last season, the Cubs should have no trouble reaching base.
There is, however, always the fear of a trap game or of simply facing an entirely different kind of pitcher. This will be the first lefty the Cubs have faced so far and he’s also got a different bag of tricks. I have a feeling patience and contact will still carry the day, though a little more power sure would be nice.
There’s a slight chance of rain this afternoon, but the forecast calls for mostly cloudy skies and upper-60s temps that should make for great baseball weather. First pitch is set for 4:12pm ET, which is fitting because it matches both the date and Pittsburgh’s primary area code. Even cooler, the 3:12pm CT start time matches Chicago’s main AC. Wild stuff.
As (almost) always, Marquee Sports Network and 670 The Score have the coverage.
— Chicago Cubs (@Cubs) April 12, 2022