Albert Almora Jr. leads off in center, Jason Heyward is in right, and legit MVP candidate Ednel Javier Baez once again bats third and plays second. With Anthony Rizzo anchoring things in the cleanup spot, we’re seeing the makings of a lineup that has really solidified for the first time in long time. Of course, that comes at least in part from Kris Bryant’s continued absence.
Willson Contreras is back behind the plate batting fifth, Kyle Schwarber hits sixth in left, Ian Happ fills in at third base, and Addison Russell mans short. This gives the Cubs four lefty batters and may help to neutralize Luis Castillo’s slider, a pitch that baffled the Cubs earlier in the season.
Jon Lester is on the mound, need I say more? The ace has gone at least five innings in 16 starts, all but his first time out in Miami, and he’s held opponents to two or fewer earned runs in each of his last six and 11 of his last 12 starts. Another effort like that should see the Cubs notching another series win and answering some of the questions about why it’s so difficult for them to beat the Reds.
As mentioned, Castillo will be on the mound facing the Cubs for the third time this season. The 25-year-old righty was very good in the first two outings, stifling them completely in one and holding them to three runs most recently. Castillo is going to lean heavily on that 96 mph fastball, though it’s one of the worst pitches in baseball when it comes to giving up runs. If he’s just piping it, the Cubs can turn it around.
Should he get ahead in the count, Castillo is capable of sweeping his slider on righties or pulling the string with the change against lefties. The latter has become even more of a go-to pitch for him this season, something we’ve seen from those two other starts. He threw a lot of sliders the first time around, but then used the change for over one-third of his pitches the last time he faced the Cubs.
There isn’t a lot to dissect in this one, Cubs hitters just need to pound Castillo’s mistakes and give Lester a cushion so he can cruise.
First pitch is at 1:20pm CT and can be seen on WGN or heard on 670 The Score.
Here is today's #Cubs lineup for the homestand finale.
— Chicago Cubs (@Cubs) July 8, 2018