Tonight’s game is a rematch of August 29 in Cincinnati with two of the NL’s top pitchers squaring off. The Cubs got the better of Trevor Bauer in that one, hitting two homers and striking out just five times to back a stellar effort from Yu Darvish. It won’t be easy to repeat that performance, especially since that’s Bauer’s first loss to the Cubs in the regular season, but let’s hope they’re up to the task.
Ian Happ leads off in center, followed by a resurgent Willson Contreras in the second spot at DH. Anthony Rizzo plays first, Javy Báez mans short, and Victor Caratini is behind the plate. Jason Heyward returns to the lineup after missing some time due a bout of lightheadedness the other day and David Bote plays third. Finishing things out is new acquisition Ildemaro Vargas at second base.
Starting for the Cubs is Darvish, who actually credits Bauer with helping him achieve this new level of ace-dom, though the advice was hardly sagacious. Bauer basically just told him to throw strikes, which Darvish has done as well as anyone over the last year or more. The big righty is more confident than ever and is being more deliberate with his offerings, which includes pumping his high-90’s fastball more often in two-strike counts.
Bauer is essentially Darvish Lite, complete with a broad repertoire and the ability to manipulate various pitches in in different ways. He’s even got an active social media presence, though his particular brand of engagement has taken more of a bullying tone at times than simply telling someone to eat fried chicken until death.
The admittedly unathletic righty had trouble with his slider and cutter in that previous start against the Cubs while throwing the latter more frequently than in another other start this season. He also threw his fastball much less than usual, a trend I’d expect to change in this one. As Tyler Mahle has shown in his two starts against the Cubs, in which he’s tallied 21 strikeouts, pumping sliders tends to work.
Bauer might also lean on the curveball a bit because it’s actually been his best pitch over his last two starts, though there’s no guarantee he’ll be feeling it tonight. With a streak of three consecutive losses, one less than he took in the 2016 World Series, hoping for him to drop a fourth is a pretty big ask. Then again, he’s walked at least two in each of the last four outings and has seen his groundball rate drop from previous seasons.
As satisfying as it would be to beat the Reds and win the series, putting a hurting on Bauer would make it that much better.
First pitch is at 7:15pm CT on Marquee and 670 The Score.