Chicago Cubs Lineup (5/5/24): Assad Starting Rubber Match

The Cubs got back in the win column yesterday to even the series, though they managed to make the win nearly as frustrating as Friday’s loss. This bullpen is in shambles at the moment and can’t be trusted with anything shy of the 5-0 lead it inherited after Jameson Taillon‘s stellar start. Reinforcements are coming soon, with Justin Steele scheduled to start on Monday and both Cody Bellinger and Seiya Suzuki expected to return at some point next week, so closing out this series with two wins would be huge.

Javier Assad has been a huge part of the Cubs’ early success and his dominance has ensured that the bullpen typically has a little room for error. While he’s only earned two decisions so far, he has not allowed more than two runs in any of his six starts. Provided he continues pitching with the same efficiency, it’d be nice to see him go deeper in this one.

Part of that comes down to what the Cubs are able to do to support Assad, namely scoring a bunch of runs. That starts with Nico Hoerner at second and Mike Tauchman in right. Ian Happ is in left, Christopher Morel is the third baseman, and Michael Busch is at first. Dansby Swanson plays short, Patrick Wisdom is the DH, Pete Crow-Armstrong is in center, and Miguel Amaya handles the catching duties.

Their task won’t be easy because they’re up against the best starter they’ve faced so far this weekend. Joe Ross did make them look pretty silly, but Freddy Peralta is much better on paper. Not only is he still striking batters out at a high rate, he’s also walking fewer than ever while generating grounders with higher frequency than in the past.

There’s reason to believe some of that is the product of good fortune, as his .229 BABIP against probably isn’t sustainable in light of a 12.2% barrel rate that sits nearly 63% higher than league average. That’s seventh-percentile bad and the Cubs are going to need to leverage it for all it’s worth this afternoon. Peralta’s weakness is the 95 mph fastball that often leaks into the belt-high nitro zone when he doesn’t pound it on the arm-side edge.

His strategy is to get ahead early and get to the slider that currently grades out as the best in baseball by some measures. It’s top-five in terms of total run value and anywhere from 1-3 in per-pitch value depending on which service you check. Unlike most sliders that get swings and misses out of the zone, Peralta loves to throw his just to the glove side of middle-middle. He can work it all over, though, so it’s nearly impossible for hitters to sit on a certain location.

The slider also has a major velo disparity from the four-seam, coming in at just 82 mph. Peralta’s changeup is a very firm offering that sits around 89 mph and falls out of the bottom of the zone, then he’s got a curveball at about 79 that can be a little spotty in terms of location. Still, it’s been a good pitch for him. Even though his fastball makes up over half of his pitches, it’s really just a setup for those three secondaries that can all get outs.

Peralta has traditionally been pretty split-neutral with right-handed hitters slugging a bit better, but he’s gotten huge reverse results so far this season. Left-handed batters are slashing a paltry .125/.188/.203 against him and he’s struck out 27 of the 69 he’s faced. The good news is that righties have really gotten to him on the road, posting a .257/.333/.429 slash with a pair of homers.

On the flip side, this Cubs roster has done next to nothing against Peralta in the past. Happ is the only one with much experience and he has the group’s only homer, but he’s also slashing .050/.208/.200 over 20 ABs. This is one of those where you’d almost consider turning him around to bat righty, though that is typically a bad idea for a switch-hitter who’s probably never seen a righty pitcher from the right side of the plate.

I can see this matchup going one of two ways: Either the Cubs fall right in line with their historical results against Peralta or they blow him up in a big way. Let’s hope for the latter this afternoon. First pitch is at 2:20pm CT on Marquee and 670 The Score.

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