Chicago Cubs Lineup (7/17/19): Almora Leads Off, Russell at 2B, Darvish Pitching

Albert Almora Jr. leads off the finale of this three-game set with the Reds as Kyle Schwarber gets the day off in the wake of his first walk-off homer. This is a scheduled day off for Schwarber, though being pelted with all manner of detritus after the game may have contributed to his absence.

Javy Báez bats second at short, Kris Bryant is in left, Anthony Rizzo maintains his spot as cleanup man, and Victor Caratini is catching. Jason Heyward mans right, Addison Russell is at second because it’s unfair to let Robel Garcia keep hitting bombs, and David Bote holds down the hot corner.

Sonny Gray has experienced a rebirth in Cincinnati after an ill-fated Yankees tenure during which he was asked to change his pitch mix against his will. It’s nearly impossible for anyone on the outside to find accurately categorize Gray’s repertoire because it’s so nuanced that pitch tracking systems show vastly different results, so his cutter and slider will be classified differently depending on where you look, but that really doesn’t matter.

Letting him do his thing is key and whatever he and the Reds are doing now seems to be working, as Gray’s 10.36 K/9 is the highest of his career. His 3.42 ERA and 3.25 FIP indicate that his results are right in line with how well he’s pitching.

Gray struck out seven Cubs and walked none the first time they squared off, then struck out six with one walk in late June. He’s given up three total dingers in those two starts, though he’s only allowed six more in 16 other starts and isn’t often susceptible to the longball. The Cubs may need to wait Gray out in this one and take advantage of the few mistakes they get.

Yu Darvish is coming off of what may have been his best start as a Cub, so maybe he can do that again. Since starting out the season with an abysmal walk rate, Darvish has really gotten his control, well, under control. The command is a different story entirely, as he ranked last in baseball heading into that last start.

And in case you are scratching your head on that one, control and command are two different things. One is throwing the ball for strikes, the other is being able to throw your strikes where you want to. Though he’s cut the walks demonstrably, Darvish has given up a lot of hard contact because he has thrown too many meatballs.

That wasn’t the case in his last start, though, so perhaps he’s finding his groove. That would be a very good thing moving forward, and just seeing Darvish get a win at Wrigley would be big for everyone.

First pitch is set for 1:20pm CT on NBC Sports Chicago and 670 The Score.

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