Chicago Cubs Lineup (4/7/24): Happ DH, Morel at 3B, Tauchman in LF, Imanaga Pitching

Yesterday marked the first time two Japanese-born players had faced each other at Wrigley Field as Yoshinobu Yamamoto pitched against Seiya Suzuki. Sunday will be the second such tilt, just flipped around with Shota Imanaga and Shohei Ohtani squaring off. It’s kind of wild that Yu Darvish was never part of such a matchup, right?

Imanaga has a slightly taller task than when he faced the Rockies in his Cubs debut, so I’m not sure we should expect a repeat of that performance. He was masterful over six shutout innings, striking out nine with no walks and allowing just two hits. We know for sure he’ll work in the zone, it’s just a matter of avoiding barrels.

The Cubs are sticking with the same top seven in the order, though Ian Happ gets a day off in the field as the DH. Suzuki is in right, Cody Bellinger is in center, and Christopher Morel gets another shot at third base. Dansby Swanson is the shortstop, Michael Busch is at first, Nico Hoerner is at second, and Mike Tauchman handles the duties in left. Miguel Amaya rounds things out behind the plate.

The Dodgers are looking to Gavin Stone, their third straight starter in the series with an average fastball of 95 mph or better. Stone is also the second 25-year-old starter they’ve used. Though much is made of the veteran pitchers they’ve traded for or signed, LA’s pitching pipeline remains a huge strength. Even though they are without Ohtani, Walker Buehler, Dustin May, and Clayton Kershaw, they’ve still got a strong rotation filled with hard throwers.

That’s why it’s important to address the pitching staff with both development and a ton of money.

Drafted in the fifth round back in 2020, Stone is making his second start of the season and sixth overall at the MLB level. His fastball sits mid-90s, but it’s the 70-grade split changeup that does the heavy lifting for him. Clocking in at around 88 mph, the pitch dive-bombs the dirt for ugly swings and misses.

Here are some videos of it in action during his season debut.

A fast riser in the prospect rankings, Stone improved his velocity and leaned on his offspeed pitch to work his way into a big league rotation spot. He struggled badly last year over 31 innings in eight total appearances, surrendering eight homers out of a staggering 46 hits, but that’s because literally all of his pitches failed him. It may well have been a matter of trying to force them to work and aiming for strikes, which is a surefire way to generate bad results.

If I may break personal for a while, it’s the same thing I saw from my son in his first high school outing. He came on in a save situation and couldn’t find the plate, after which he noted that he was trying to throw strikes. While that’s the same well-meaning and misguided advice you’ll hear from parents all the time, that kind of results-based approach isn’t good. It’s a matter of executing pitches with conviction and controlling what you can control until the ball leaves your hand.

Stone appears to have figured that out or has found a new gear, because his stuff was playing well in Arizona and his velocity is up big-time over last year. Part of that may simply be that he’s fresh in the early going, though an extra five ticks on the curve suggests he’s doing something different with that pitch. Like Yamamoto and Bobby Miller before him, Stone has never faced any Cubs batters in a game that counts.

We’ve seen that play out in very different ways so far in the series, with the Cubs pouncing on each Miller mistake on Friday before failing to cash in numerous opportunities against Yamamoto yesterday. This one should come down to how well Stone’s change is working. At over 40% of his offerings, he can’t really succeed if it’s staying up in the zone.

First pitch is set for 1:20pm CT on Marquee and 670 The Score, let’s see if Craig Counsell‘s Cubs can make a little meatloaf.

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