Chicago Cubs Lineup (7/19/19): Almora Leads Off, Russell Fifth, Maldonado Catching, Lester Faces Dads

For the second straight game, Kyle Schwarber is not in the lineup and Albert Almora Jr. is handling leadoff duties. Unless Schwarber is dealing with a minor malady, Joe Maddon may be sticking with traditional logic despite today’s opposing pitcher posting pretty hefty reverse splits on the road this season. Oh well.

Javy Báez bats second at short, Kris Bryant is in left, Anthony Rizzo cleans up, and Addison Russell bats fifth at second base. Jason Heyward handles right, David Bote is at third, and Martín Maldonado is catching

Eric Lauer isn’t likely to be fazed by a raucous Wrigley crowd Friday afternoon because he pitched through a literal earthquake in his most recent start against the Dodgers. This is where I was going to make a joke about that being almost as amazing as the time his uncle Matt (they’re not actually related) survived his helicopter being shot down in Afghanistan. But Brian Williams made up that tall tale, while Lauer just got NBC to pay for his chopper rides to and from his Hamptons abode.

Anyway, this will be the 24-year-old lefty’s first start of the second half after spending five days on the bereavement list. That means he’s had a full two weeks between starts, which could have him a bit out of sorts and may limit his pitch count to some degree. As a control pitcher who relies more on getting outs via contact, that could be good news for the Cubs.

Lauer is a fastball/cutter/curve guy who sprinkles in some sliders and changeups based on the handedness of the opposing hitter. The four-seam makes up over half of his offerings and jumps well over 60% when he falls behind. Righties need to be wary of the curve, though, since he throws it 27% of the time as a first pitch to them. Not possessed of a real put-away pitch, Lauer depends on getting ahead early and getting weak contact on his pitches.

At a 64% first-pitch strike rate and nearly 93% in-zone contact, he’s not a guy who’s going to fool many hitters. But with a 45% groundball rate and just nine home runs allowed in 91.1 innings (0.89 HR/9), he’s limiting the damage to a great degree. He doesn’t beat himself with walks (2.46 BB/9) and has only issued one free pass in each of his last three starts, so the Cubs can’t really wait patiently.

The splits for Lauer skew ever-so-slightly toward reverse, as lefties reach base often enough to offset the higher slugging for righties. It’s only a nine-point difference in wOBA, and no one’s going to point to a .311 mark as reason to rejoice. He’s been much worse on the road, though, pitching to a 5.75 ERA inflated by an .850 OPS by lefties.

One of the hitters who could take advantage of that is Sweet-Swingin’ Jon Lester, whose .774 OPS is enough to make him the third-string second baseman. He’s also a pretty decent pitcher and he’ll need to put up a good effort against a team that sits in the top half of the NL when it comes to hitting southpaws (97 wRC+).

We’ll see which lefty prevails when things get started at 1:20pm CT on NBC Sports Chicago (MLB Network for out-of-market viewers) and 670 The Score.

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