The Cubs are on a four-game winning streak that includes taking the first two games of their series with the Pirates, meaning they can capture their first sweep with a win tonight. Excellent starting pitching has been the key so far, with shutout victories making their high offensive output just so much gravy. Everything seems to be going right for the Cubs lately, so let’s hope they keep that up in this one.
Drew Smyly is facing the Pirates for the third time already this season and he’s gotten mixed results from the first two starts. After shutting them out with just three hits over five innings back on April 12, he allowed four earned runs on six hits 10 days later. Two homers hurt in that one as he suffered the first of an active streak of four consecutive losses.
Smyly is also riding a streak of four strikeouts in each of his last five games, so keep an eye on that. He’s been efficient and has done a great job of keeping the ball on the ground, now it’s just a matter of getting some support and hanging a W.
Rafael Ortega will start things off in center, followed by Willson Contreras behind the plate and Ian Happ in left. Seiya Suzuki cleans up in right with Alfonso Rivas at first and Frank Schwindel as the DH, which is the only realistic spot for him with the way this roster is set up. Jonathan Villar is at second, Christopher Morel is at third, and Andrelton Simmons is the shortstop.
Since I noted that DH was Schwindel’s best spot on this roster, I should clarify that I’m only saying that because Rivas is a better defensive first baseman. The bigger real issue is that Frank the Tank hasn’t been hitting all that well in spite of some timely knocks that have made his recent performance look better. He hasn’t walked or homered in 28 plate appearances since being pulled back from a demotion and his 81 wRC+ is still well below average.
The Cubs would probably be better served for the time being to let Patrick Wisdom handle backup reps at first while Morel gets more time at third. The rookie can also handle either middle infield spot as well as all three outfield positions if needed, but there’s only so much room in Chicago.
Going for the Bucs is Wil Crowe, who has not made a start yet this season and was a late announcement to take the bump in this one. He will be facing the Cubs for the fourth time in 2022 and has yet to give up a run in 6.2 innings of work. One of those outings lasted three innings, his longest of the season, though he hasn’t recorded more than four outs in an appearance since April 21.
Crowe’s 95 mph fastball is up a little bit this season, but he’s throwing it much less as he has increased his changeup, sinker, and slider usage. Those pitches have all gotten good results for him thus far, even though his strikeout and walk numbers have remained pretty pedestrian. Having such a solid change has helped the righty limit left-handed batters to a .167 average and .224 wOBA over 34 plate appearances so far.
The good news is that Crowe isn’t likely to go deep in this one, giving the Cubs a chance to dig into the Pittsburgh bullpen pretty quickly. They’ve scored early against the Pirates so far, putting the games out of reach and then hiding, and more of the same is certainly possible tonight. That said, I envision a lower-scoring affair in the finale.
Tonight’s TV broadcast is being carried exclusively by MLB’s YouTube channel, so you’ll have to head over there to check it out. If you’re not so inclined, 670 The Score will still have the radio call at 6:40pm CT.
Here is tonight's #Cubs starting lineup!
— Chicago Cubs (@Cubs) May 18, 2022