Chicago Cubs Lineup (7/7/21): Pederson Leads Off, KB at 3B, Hoerner at 2B, Mills Pitching

Update: Javy has been scratched with a right thumb sprain, so Sergio Alcántara will start at short. He’ll bat eighth and the rest of the order moves up.

The Cubs have lost 11 in a row and now face the man who’s probably second to Jacob deGrom in the NL Cy Young race, so that’s fun. Do you look at the 10 runs they scored last night as a sign that the offense is ready to explode or as a harbinger of several more low-scoring efforts? We’ll find out soon enough.

Joc Pederson will get things started in left, followed by Kris Bryant at third and the hot-hitting Javier Báez at short. Anthony Rizzo is at first, Willson Contreras handles the catching, Jason Heyward is in right, Nico Hoerner is at second, and Rafal Ortega is in center.

Alec Mills is on the mound to make his sixth start coming off of what was probably his best outing of the season against the Reds. He struck out nine with just one walk over 5.2 innings, yielding two runs on two hits in an eventual loss. Mills typically keeps the Cubs in the ballgame, it’s just a matter of getting run support.

He may not get much of that with Zack Wheeler going for the Phillies tonight, though. Wheeler has just a 6-4 record over 17 starts in spite of a 2.05 ERA that puts him among baseball’s elite this season. He’s striking out more batters and walking fewer than ever before, plus he’s keeping the ball on the ground and in the ballpark.

The 31-year-old righty can’t quite match deGrom’s velocity, but sitting 97-98 with the fastball is still pretty solid. Wheeler leans on the four-seam for about 43% of his pitches, then throws slider about 26% and sinker 18%, with the curve (9%), change (2.5%), and split (1.5%) making up the rest. The splitter is the only one of them not generating pretty significant positive value at this point.

Even though none of Wheeler’s pitches ranks among the top 2-3 in the game individually, the fact that he can beat hitters with all of them makes him very dangerous. What’s more, being able to locate everything extremely well means he’s pitching to almost even splits on the season. He has been a little worse on the road thus far, though we’re still talking about a .231/.305/.302 split.

This probably isn’t a game in which the Cubs are going to be able to win with homers, as Wheeler has only allowed seven dingers all season. Three of those came courtesy of the Giants back on 4/20, but he hasn’t given up more than one in any other game and hasn’t allowed any since June 4. Does that mean he’s due?

Like Aaron Nola last night, Wheeler is a big-time strike-thrower who loves to get ahead in the count early so that he can unleash those secondaries. And it’s not just about missing bats, which he does plenty of, it’s about avoiding hard contact. According to FanGraphs, Wheeler’s 22.8% hard-hit rate is the lowest in MLB by nearly two full percentage points.

Not a great matchup for a team that doesn’t make a lot of contact, but, again, maybe this is one of those games where you throw the stats out the window. First pitch from Wrigley is set for 7:05pm CT on Marquee and 670 The Score. As always, I’ll remind you to check out a free preview of fuboTV if you want to get Marquee without a hefty cable subscription.

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