After a day off, the Cubs are ready to get back at it in St. Louis under a Friday evening sky that promises to be significantly more conducive to baseball than what they left behind in Denver. Let’s hope the metaphorical dark clouds can be swept away too, huh.
Eddie Butler, who makes extra money in the offseason as an Ed Sheeran impersonator, will be taking the bump for his Cubs debut after going 1-0 with a 1.17 ERA at AAA Iowa. Butler fell out of favor with the Rockies last year, though there are signs that he has rediscovered the form that made him a fast-tracked prospect for them. You’ll be able to see it in living color tonight, but Brendan Miller detailed a release-point change that may have fostered the improved results.
Backing Butler will be an offense that has flashed only occasional signs of being the juggernaut we saw last season. Kyle Schwarber remains in the leadoff spot, where Joe Maddon says he’s likely to stay. The manager told reporters he actually likes putting struggling players at leadoff, though it’d sure be nice to give Kris Bryant more people to drive in. Anthony Rizzo is back in the three-hole as he looks to get off the schneid.
Ben Zobrist is at second, followed by Jeimer Candelario, who continues to see plenty of time at the heart of the order. Whether it’s because I have an affinity for the young man or because it increases his profile, I hope he lights it up there. Willson Contreras forms a battery with Butler, while Javy Baez plays short in place of Addison Russell, who’s still resting that sore shoulder.
On that note, Maddon will address any updates in the shortstop’s condition when he speaks to the media prior to the game. Please say your prayers and perform any other pagan rituals you deem necessary in the meantime.
Butler is batting eighth and Albert Almora Jr. fills out the batting order playing center. This isn’t the best lineup Maddon could put together were he dealing with a healthy roster, but it’s not bad under the circumstances.
The Cubs will be opposed by righty Mike Leake, who last year parlayed several seasons of mediocrity with the Reds (and Giants) into $80 million over five years. He’s making good on the contract right now, though, pitching to a 2.53 ERA with a .0942 WHIP. Leake is very familiar with the Cubs, having previously faced them 23 times (all starts) as a longtime division rival.
In 151 innings, the Cardinals starter has held the Cubs to a .710 OPS and has issued 36 walks against 103 strikeouts. Of course, much of that experience came against those forgettable iterations of the team from 2010-14, so take it with a grain of salt. Leake’s numbers at Busch and at night are slightly better than his career averages — which isn’t really saying all that much, I guess — so the Cubs might want to be on their toes.
On the surface, there isn’t a whole lot about Leake’s performance that really jumps out at you. His pitch mix (sinker, cutter, slider, change, knuckle curve) and velocity have remained relatively static over the last few years and he’s not a big strikeout or walk guy. He’s giving up a lot less hard contact this year, though, and the one surprising stat among his peripherals is a 3.1 percent HR/FB rate that is more than 10 points lower than his career average.
That’s all about location, as Leake has kept the ball down, down, down. Because of that, he’s only allowed one dinger and has gone at least 6 innings in every start so far this season. But just like the home runs he hasn’t yet given up in large numbers, Leake is bound to come back to earth. The Cubs have fared very poorly against underperforming pitchers — Bronson Arroyo and German Marquez to name a couple — so maybe they can tune up on a guy pitching above his head.
— Chicago Cubs (@Cubs) May 12, 2017