Chicago Cubs Lineup (5/23/22): Ortega Leads Off, Happ Cleans Up, Smyly Seeking Elusive W
The Cubs and Reds both come into this game riding winning streaks, even if both can be expressed by a non-crooked number. With just four games separating them in the standings, it’s possible for Cincinnati to catch the Cubs with a sweep. As unlikely as that is, the Reds are 6-4 over their last 10 and have gained three games on the Cubs in that time.
Or perhaps the Cubs can rebuild the momentum they pissed away with four straight losses to the Pirates and Diamondbacks prior to Sunday’s dramatic win. Doing so could mean getting Drew Smyly his first win since his club debut back on April 12. A no-decision in his next start preceded five straight losses, not all of which should have been pinned on the lefty.
Though Smyly has allowed six homers over those five starts, he’s limited his opponents to four or fewer earned runs each time. While that isn’t ace-level performance by any stretch, he’s at least kept the Cubs in the game each time. He should be able to do the same against a lineup that has a mere 67 wRC+ against lefties this season, the lowest mark in baseball by nine points.
None of that matters if the Cubs don’t score some runs of their own, so Rafael Ortega needs to get the party started as the leadoff hitter and center fielder. Jonathan Villar bats and plays second, Seiya Suzuki is in right, Ian Happ is in left, and Yan Gomes is the catcher. Frank Schwindel is the DH, Alfonso Rivas is at first, Patrick Wisdom is at third, and Christopher Morel is the shortstop.
They should have plenty of opportunities to score against 26-year-old righty Vladimir Gutiérrez, whose 8.65 ERA is second-highest among all MLB starters with at least 20 innings pitched (Carlos Hernandez, 9.10). Gutierrez has identical 14.8% strikeout and walk rates, neither of which is good, plus he’s allowed six homers in as many starts. This isn’t really the case of one bad start messing up his numbers, either.
Gutierrez has yet to finish the 5th inning this season, largely because he has allowed a combination of at least six hits and walks in each start. He has also walked as many or more batters as he’s struck out on four separate occasions.
That lack of success comes from a fastball that isn’t hard enough to blow people away (92.5 mph) and isn’t being located well enough to get whiffs or weak contact. The slider has been Gutierrez’s best pitch, but that’s only because nothing else seems to be working for him right now. His curve is a show-me pitch at best and he appears to have lost the feel for his changeup, which was a real weapon for him last year. That explains why left-handed hitters are destroying him this season.
We’re talking a .340 average, 1.263 OPS, and .519 wOBA thanks to five homers, five doubles, and two triples. As you might imagine, those numbers are even worse when Gutierrez pitches in the lefty-batter-friendly confines of Great American Ball Park. As the home starter, he’s allowing a .350 average, 1.369 OPS, and .558 wOBA that are almost enough to make right-handed batters turn around just for the hell of it.
A case could be made for Happ and Villar opting to bat lefty, but the thing about switch-hitters is they never see like-handed pitchers and might not actually benefit from the move. Even with all their faults, the Cubs have no excuse if they’re not able to put up some offense in this one. First pitch from GABP is set for 5:40pm CT on Marquee and 670 The Score.
Here is tonight's #Cubs starting lineup in Cincinnati. pic.twitter.com/40nwJqhHFl
— Chicago Cubs (@Cubs) May 23, 2022