Chicago Cubs Lineup (4/29/24): Hoerner Leads Off, Tauchman in RF, Taillon Tossing

The Cubs had a series to forget in Boston, winning the first game only to be walked over on Saturday and walked off last night, but maybe they can get back to feeling royal in Queens. Following a season in which they LOL, Mets’d themselves in the Metsiests of ways, New York’s redheaded stepchild of a baseball team has put together a nice run to get north of the .500 mark.

Jameson Taillon seeks to slow the Mets down as he comes in with a 2-0 record and a 1.69 ERA that’s much nicer than the way he started last year. He appears to have remedied the mechanical issues that plagued him last season, dulling his offerings and forcing him to press through inconsistencies. Taillon has four strikeouts in each of his two games thus far and has managed to scatter the 10 hits he’s allowed.

The Cubs could use a long outing and he’ll be good for at least six innings if he’s sharp, but what they really need is more offense in the early going. Nico Hoerner leads off at second base, Mike Tauchman is in right, Ian Happ is in left, and Christopher Morel is at third. Michael Busch is at first, Dansby Swanson is the shortstop, Matt Mervis handles DH duties, Yan Gomes is the catcher, and Pete Crow-Armstrong is in center.

I applaud Craig Counsell for sticking with pretty much the same group, even if it does irk me that he’s almost always very late in letting us know. Maintaining continuity is good for any group, and it’s even more important for a young one that’s been cobbled together.

They’re up against Luis Severino, who’s toiling in Flushing after spending the better part of a decade in The Bronx. Injuries have limited him over the course of his career, but he’s been healthy and dealing so far through five starts. Armed with a four-seam that sits 96-97 mph, a cutter at around 93 mph, and a 96 mph sinker he’s throwing far more often than in the past, this is shaping up to be his best season since 2018 with the Yankees.

Severino’s slider was his biggest weapon back then and he threw it over 35% of the time, but it’s now down below 20% usage as its effectiveness dwindles. It’s still his favorite secondary, so he won’t scrap it entirely even though it’s been objectively bad for the last two seasons so far. The problem seems to be that he doesn’t know where it’s going and can’t find the zone with it. Whether it’s just a lack of feel or the use of different grips, Statcast differentiates between a sweeper and slider for Severino.

Perhaps because so much of his stuff works away from right-handed hitters, they’re putting up much better splits against him thus far. Righties have hit both homers Severino has allowed and their .322 wOBA is 62 points higher than their left-handed counterparts. Almost all of that comes from his performance at Citi Field, so perhaps the Cubs can take advantage.

The four-seam will work up in the zone and has a little cut to it, making his actual cutter more effective because he locates it either up or down on more on the glove-side edge. The sinker will run to the arm-side edge, typically lower third but working upper middle at times too. Those pitches all have much more defined location heat maps, whereas the breaking balls are unpredictable. Not only that, but they often end up so far outside the zone that hitters just spit on spin.

While that hasn’t led to a high walk rate, it forces Severino to come back with strikes even when he gets ahead in the count. His swinging-strike rate of 7.8% is almost four points below his career average and roughly three below the rest of the league, which explains why he’s given up 25 hits to 26 strikeouts over 27 innings. Only two of those hits have left the hard, however, which is what happens when you get a 58.2% grounder rate.

Severino does a good job of avoiding barrels even if he’s not missing bats entirely, so the Cubs may want to have their station-to-station pants on tonight. They’d also do well to be a little more aggressive early to avoid letting the 30-year-old settle into a rhythm. Easier said than done with a duct-taped roster that is just trying to hold until reinforcements arrive from the IL.

First pitch is at 6:10pm CT on Marquee and 670 The Score.

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