Chicago Cubs Lineup (4/12/24): Morel at 3B, Tauchman DH, Wicks Starting

The good thing about tonight’s game is that the picture will be crystal-clear to the point of seeming fake. The bad news is that most Cubs fans won’t be able to see it because it’s on Apple TV+ as part of the Friday Night Baseball feature. Even though I have the requisite subscription, there’s something mildly off-putting to me about streaming-only broadcasts.

You have to figure things will be better for the Cubs tonight than they were in Wednesday’s series finale against the Padres. Jordan Wicks has been very solid through two starts, showing an ability to miss bats with his fastball, and he’s on the bump with a chance to get his team off to a good start in Seattle.

It’s more of the same at the top of the lineup, with Ian Happ leading off in left, Seiya Suzuki batting second in right, and Cody Bellinger manning center. Christopher Morel bats cleanup as the third baseman, Dansby Swanson is hitting fifth, Michael Busch bats sixth at first base, and Nico Hoerner bats seventh. Mike Tauchman gets a chance to DH and Yan Gomes is the catcher.

They’re facing righty Bryce Miller, who is likewise making his third start and is coming off of a gem against the Brewers. The 25-year-old held his opponents scoreless over seven innings, allowing just three hits and striking out seven with one walk. He’s been an elite strike-thrower over the last two seasons, to the extent that he often finds too much of the plate, and the Mariners thought highly enough of him to have him skip Triple-A entirely after just over 70 combined innings at Double-A last season and in 2022.

Miller has the big fastball you tend to see from just about every young pitcher today, sitting right around 96 mph with the four-seam he throws a little under 40% of the time. That’s way down from last season when he was at nearly 60%, which is a product of a revamped repertoire. Gone is the cutter that made up 19% of his pitches, replaced with a big jump in slider usage. The righty also ditched his seldom-used changeup in favor of a splitter that he throws nearly a quarter of the time.

That has been his best pitch in the early going, perhaps because it has nearly the same velocity as the slider and moves to the arm side. Rather than falling off the table in the middle, Miller works the splitter in to righties and keeps it middle to lower-third of the zone. While it’ll take some time for the numbers to settle, he’s been getting a lot of whiffs despite fewer swings in the early going.

The thing with Miller is that even when he is missing bats more often than most, his mistakes get hit hard and in the air. More than 40% of the contact against him results in fly balls and hitters are able to barrel him up more often than most of his colleagues. He tends to be a streaky pitcher who sandwiches two or three stinkers between excellent outings, but he can get on a roll and rattle off several strong starts in a row.

I like this matchup because the Cubs have been finding ways to get to most opposing starters early and often. They won’t miss if Miller leaves a cement mixer or two up there, so I think this comes down to whether Wicks can keep the Mariners at bay.

First pitch from Seattle is at 8:40pm CT on Apple TV+ and 670 The Score.

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