Chicago Cubs Lineup: Rizzo Leads Off, Happ at 3B as KB Rests, Hendricks Pitching and Batting 8

Surprise, Anthony Rizzo is still leading off. It always seems like a temporary gimmick, but as Joe Maddon is fond of saying, “If it looks sexy, wear it.” Albert Almora Jr. is batting second and playing center, taking Kris Bryant’s usual lineup spot as the big third baseman gets a day off. Jason Heyward hits third in right and Javy Baez cleans up.

Ian Happ will bat fifth and handle the hot corner, Kyle Schwarber bats sixth in left, Addison Russell is batting seventh, and Vic Caratini bats at the very bottom of the order. That’s right, the pitcher is batting eighth again.

Kyle Hendricks has not been himself this season, at least not every time out, and it’s all about his mechanics. We’ve seen him leaving the sinker up in the zone far too frequently, a fault that has led to a boatload of homers. As pitching coach Jim Hickey said recently, it’s a matter of Hendricks “sitting on his back leg” and collapsing too much during his delivery.

That wasn’t the case in San Francisco prior to the break, but we’ve seen Hendricks give up home runs in each of his last two starts to bring his season total to a career-high 18 with several starts still to go. And he’s only facing a tough D-backs lineup anchored by noted Cubs killer Paul Goldschmidt in this one. Fun!

Then again, Goldy is 0-for-5 with two strikeouts against Hendricks, which isn’t much better than the rest of the lineup. Of those who’ve faced the soft-tossing Cubs starter, the Snakes roster is slashing .184/.225/.211 in 38 at-bats. Let’s hope those numbers hold up in this one.

Going for Arizona in this one will be 33-year-old righty Clay Buchholz, who is making his eighth start of the season. The long-time Red Sox pitcher was traded to Philly prior to 2017, but only made two starts before right forearm surgery cost him the rest of the season. He signed with the Royals in March of this year and was released in May, after which he joined the Diamondbacks.

Outside of a hiccup back on June 12 in which he allowed five runs to the Pirates, Buchholz has given up as many as two earned runs only once this season. He’s surrendered 30 hits in 38.2 innings and has issued only seven walks, good for a 0.96 WHIP. The walks are really the key, as his 1.63 BB/9 ranks 20th lowest among 350 pitchers with at least 30 innings this season.

Thing is, despite the low walk numbers and a 67.3 first-strike percentage that sits 28th among that same group of pitchers, Buchholz isn’t necessarily pounding the zone. At only 46.4 percent, he’s actually throwing fewer strikes than 63 other pitchers. Which means he’s getting swings on balls, probably because he’s throwing with velocity similar to Hendricks.

The fastball and sinker sit about 91 mph, while the cutter is in the mid-80’s with the curve and change around 76-78. Unlike most pitchers, there’s very little fluctuation in the frequency of Buchholz’s pitches based on the situation. He’ll deploy the changeup as a strikeout pitch when he gets ahead in the count, but everything remains pretty static for the most part.

There’s reason to believe the Cubs can get something going in this one, since roughly 60 percent of the contact Buchholtz give up is in the air and only about 14 percent of that is hit softly. Historically an even-split guy, he’s working on a big reverse so far this season. But since most of that comes from stifling the 40 lefties he’s faced on the road, it’s hard to imagine that will continue.

We’ll see if the Cubs can increase the .236 BABIP against Buchholz when they face the D-backs at 7:05pm CT on WGN and 670 The Score.

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