Chicago Cubs Lineup: Rizzo Leads Off, Bryant in RF, Bote Returns, Lester Starts the Closer

With their win Saturday night/Sunday morning, the Cubs pushed their NL Central lead to 1.5 games, which was made possible by the Brewers losing both ends of a double-header earlier in the day. And with the scuffling Crew playing the streaking Pirates again, it’s possible the Cubs could be up even more soon after starting their last game of the first half.

Anthony Rizzo leads off again, followed by Kris Bryant in right field. Jason Heyward is in center as Albert Almora Jr. takes some time to deal with a family medical situation (everything is reportedly okay). Javy Baez is hitting cleanup in this one, something that would have seemed ridiculous prior to this season.

Javy has been the undisputed Cubs MVP this season and he’s on the short list for that award in the NL. Not only does he lead the league with 71 RBI, his 3.4 fWAR is tied for fifth after his recent heroics in Saturday’s win. Plus, he’s so damn fun to watch.

Addison Russell hits fifth, Ben Zobrist bats sixth in left, Willson Contreras is catching, and David Bote plays third after being called up again to fill Almora’s roster spot.

Who better to close out the half than Jon Lester? The staff ace — who once faced criticism for performing poorly in the wake of his huge free agent deal — should be plenty rested after six days off and will surely be looking to bring it with no chance of pitching the in All-Star Game. Lester’s really been a joy to follow this season as he settles completely into his retooled pitching strategy. Rather than try to throw it past every hitter or nibble around the edges maddeningly, he’s just going after guys and letting his defense handle the heavy lifting.

The Padres aren’t a good offense, but they’ve been hitting pretty well in the last two games and do perform better at home in general. With the way the Cubs are knocking it around, though, all Lester’s got to do is exactly what he’s done all season.

Trying to keep his team in the game will be 23-year-old lefty Eric Lauer, who’s got a 4.40 ERA over 15 starts so far. He’s only averaging about five innings per start, a function of a 1.46 WHIP from 93 hits and 31 walks, so the Cubs will want to be patiently aggressive early. Hitters have squared him up pretty well and he gives up a lot of contact in the air, something the Cubs have been doing plenty of lately.

Lauer will ride his fastball and cutter for the most part, but will mix in a curve and change for good measure. He doesn’t get many swinging strikes and is walking 3.69 per nine innings, so he’s not fooling hitters to any significant degree. He has, however, looked better over his last half-dozen games.

It should be noted that his walks are down significantly over that time and he’s allowed two or fewer earned runs in five of those starts. Lauer has posted nearly identical splits this season, with lefty batters actually hitting a little better against him. That’s really the case at Petco, though he’s only faced 34 left-handed hitters there so far.

With the way they’re playing, it’s easy to see the Cubs jumping all over the rookie to sweep the Dads heading into the break. Then again, something tells me they’re going to need to grind a little in this one.

First pitch from San Diego is a much more acceptable 3:10pm CT and can followed on WGN and 670 The Score.

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