Chicago Cubs Lineup (5/6/23): Mervis at 1B, Madrigal at 3B, Smyly Starting

Today marks the 25th anniversary of Kerry Wood‘s dominant 20-strikeout performance against the Astros, the highlights from which I just watched this morning with my son. Drew Smyly probably doesn’t have that kind of game in him this afternoon, though he was nearly perfect three starts ago and has only allowed five earned runs over his last five outings combined.

Smyly didn’t pitch against the Marlins down in Miami, which may have been a good thing because they’ve been one of the better-hitting teams against lefties. Their 108 wRC+ is higher than the Nats (103), Dodgers (89), and Mariners — Smyly’s most recent starts — in terms of that particular split. The Padres are at 118, however, and they gave Smyly his toughest go since his initial start against the Reds.

Assuming the curveball specialist is on his game today, the offense still needs to show up and make sure he doesn’t have to have another gem. They’re undefeated and have averaged four runs a game during the Matt Mervis Era, so I think it’s fair to expect that trend to continue and even improve.

Today’s lineup is almost identical to Friday, with the exceptions being Nick Madrigal batting eighth and playing third in place of Patrick Wisdom and Tucker Barnhart batting ninth behind the plate. Mervis has those debut jitters out and will look to build on the 111.2 mph piss missile he launched in his final AB yesterday, which was the fifth-hardest-hit ball for the Cubs this season.

Going for the Fish is 26-year-old righty Bryan Hoeing, whose last start came against the Cubs in Miami this past Sunday. The Batesville, IN native went five innings and limited his opponents to two runs on five hits, striking out four with just one walk. Mainly a sinker/slider pitcher, Hoeing used his changeup a lot more than usual to keep the Cubs off-balance.

That offspeed pitch is very firm at 85-88 mph, only sitting about 6-7 ticks below his fastball, and it’s helped him to limit left-handed hitters in a very limited sample. The slider is more of a gyro vs. the sweepers we’re hearing more about these days, so it has more of a curveball shape with above-average vertical drop and much less horizontal break than most pitchers. That’s the pitch that really baffled the Cubs last time out.

You’d think Hoeing would be a big groundball guy given his repertoire, but he’s given up a ton of contact in the air so far and has paid for it with a .355 BABIP. I would expect things to even out a little more over time and we might see a few more worm burners today, but I don’t think the Cubs will be quite as limited this time around. As noted, righties have tuned Hoeing up with a .356 average, 1.076 OPS, and .450 wOBA in his brief career, so this smells like a potential beatdown.

As much as I’d like to honor the memory of the late Tom Bujnowski, the man who masterminded all the random 34 jerseys and K signs in the bleachers on that fateful day, I’m not hoping for a pitchers’ duel. Gimme some big crooked numbers, as long as they’re in favor of the Cubs.

First pitch from Wrigley is at 1:20pm CT on MLB Network (out-of-market only), Marquee, and 670 The Score.

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