Chicago Cubs Lineup: Lester Goes for Baker’s Dozen, Rizzo Batting Leadoff, Baez at Third

The Cubs open a short two game set against the Pirates tonight in Pittsburgh in a series that seemed to have little importance just a few weeks ago. Fast forward to today and the Pirates are three games over .500 having won 11 in a row during a 19 game stretch that saw them go 15-4.

Anthony Rizzo stays atop the lineup for the Cubs tonight, which is no surprise given how productive he’s been since Joe Maddon put him in the leadoff position. He’s followed by Ben Zobrist, playing 2B, Jason Heyward in RF and Javier Baez batting cleanup and playing 3B.

Albert Almora is playing CF and batting fifth in the order, followed by Ian Happ in LF, Willson Contreras, Jon Lester and Addison Russell.

Jon Lester just keeps on keepin’ on and there’s no reason to believe he can’t do the same as the Cubs open their short series in Pittsburgh. This start marks the first of four straight that will be made by Cubs lefties, which I guess is pretty cool. It’ll also be his fourth time out against the Pirates this season, the first three of which yielded mixed results.

Lester gave up four earned runs in each of the first two of those starts, then shut the Bucs out over seven innings in the third game. The Cubs won all three of the matchups, though, so that’s all that really matters in the end. With Pittsburgh running hot lately, Lester putting up another vintage performance and earning his 13th win (yes, I know those don’t mean much) would be a very good thing.

Opposing the Cubs will be big righty Jameson Taillon, who’s riding a hot streak of his own. He hasn’t allowed more than three earned runs in any of his last 11 starts and he hasn’t walked more than three men in a game all season. This will actually be the first look the Cubs get at Taillon this season, though they’ve seen him over the previous two years.

The 26-year-old Taillon has a big fastball that sits 96 mph and he sets it off with a big sinker that’s thrown just as hard and a wicked curve that gets a lot of whiffs. His slider is an excellent pitch as well, but his changeup is just meh at best.

Expect to see him go heavy on the hard stuff early in the count and when the batter is ahead, then watch out for breaking balls when Taillon is up or has two strikes. He’ll use the curve as an out pitch with almost equal frequency regardless of the batter, though the slider will get a lot more use against righties.

Lefties do tend to hit Taillon a little better, and they most definitely pick up his pitches more effectively than their righty counterparts. Of the 32 walks Taillon has issued, 25 have been drawn by lefties. His home/road splits are pretty much identical, though he does give up a lot more power at PNC Park. Eight of the 12 home runs hit against him have come at home, which might be the Cubs’ key to victory.

Taillon’s first-strike percentage of 63.8 ranks 24th among 79 qualified starters and his zone percentage of 45.6 ranks 18th, telling us that he’s not overly deceptive with his offerings. His 2.43 BB/9 corroborates that, which means the Cubs can’t expect to sit back and make him work. Then again, he’s only gone past 24 batters faced twice in his last seven starts.

With Keone Kela now in the fold, the Cubs may not want to roll the dice with Pittsburgh’s improved pen. So what do they do? I’d like to see an aggressive approach from righty batters early in counts, trying to jump on that fastball. Lefties pick his other stuff up a little better, so they can afford to work it a little more. Though they’re known for coming back, an early lead for Lester would be great in this one.

First pitch is set for 6:05pm CT and can be seen on NBC Sports Chicago or heard on 670 The Score.

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