The Cubs left Pittsburgh on a low note, but they have a chance to get back to a Rocky Mountain high as they take on Kris Bryant and the first-place Rockies in Denver. Bryant has at least one hit in each of the first five games, over which his team is 4-1 with series wins over the Dodgers and Rangers. The Cubs have played poorly at Coors Field over the last several years and now have four games there before heading home for a week.
Justin Steele is on the mound for the visitors tonight to make his second start after shutting the Brewers down over five innings last week. The lefty attacked the zone with strikes, getting the swings he wanted to generate grounders at nearly a 60% rate. His velocity was down slightly over last season, but he located very well and was able to use his slider to great effect.
The offense can’t depend on five more shutout innings, so they may want to consider hanging a crooked number in this one. Clint Frazier gets things started as the DH, then it’s Nick Madrigal at second base, Jonathan Villar at short, and Frank Schwindel at first. Seiya Suzuki is in right, Yan Gomes is catching, Michael Hermosillo is in center, and Ian Happ is in left. Patrick Wisdom bats ninth as he looks to get something going.
Opposing the Cubs Thursday night is Mr. Manifest Destiny himself, Kyle Freeland. The 28-year-old lefty was not able to complete four innings in his Opening Day start, though he threw 74 pitches because he kept working deep counts. His slider was sharp enough to get six strikeouts even though his other offerings resulted in a total of five runs on five hits to put the Rockies in a hole they couldn’t climb out of.
Freeland has only faced the Cubs three times, one of which came last August in an easy win that saw Colorado jump all over Zach Davies early. Happ hit a solo homer in that one and Jason Heyward picked up an RBI on — I hope you’re sitting down for this — a grounder to the right side to score Happ for the Cubs’ only tallies against Freeland.
Possessed of one of the most balanced repertoires you’ll see from any pitcher out there, Freeland actually threw his slider more than any other pitch in that earlier start. That might not be the same tonight, but he typically throws the slider, sinker, cutter, and four-seam all in the 20-25% neighborhood. He’s also got a very firm change that makes up the rest of his basket and has historically been his worst pitch.
Along with being very balanced in his pitch mix, Freeland also has one of the lowest velocity spreads you’ll see at any level. His fastball sits around 92 mph and the slide-piece is 83, but what’s really interesting is that his 86 mph change is thrown just as hard as his cutter. Whether it’s by design or just a fluke, the offspeed pitch was actually thrown harder than the breaking ball against the Dodgers.
That could be part of what’s prevented Freeland from really breaking out, though pitching half the time at Coors certainly hasn’t helped. While his overall platoon splits aren’t stark, right-handed hitters have really gotten to him when he’s pitching at home to post an .832 OPS and .352 wOBA. If that continues tonight, the Cubs may be able to combine contact with power with this all-righty lineup in order to start the series with a win.
First pitch from Denver is at 7:40pm CT on Marquee Sports Network and 670 The Score.
— Chicago Cubs (@Cubs) April 14, 2022