The Cubs got back to their winning ways by executing a similar formula to the one we saw work so well for the title team: Grind out the starter and stay within striking distance before jumping all over the bullpen. Tlosses hurler Sonny Gray struck out nine with just one walk and one run allowed through 5.1 innings, then the Cubs put up five runs on three different relievers.
What’s more, the biggest blows came from Matt Mervis and Christopher Morel rather than Nick Madrigal and Eric Hosmer. I’m not as militant about wanting those latter two off the roster because I believe they have roles on a winning team, but those younger sluggers just make the lineup so much more dynamic. Morel hasn’t missed a beat since coming up and Mervis, while he’s still figuring out his timing, has the kind of prodigious power that can change games in a hurry.
The Cubs may need that this afternoon as they face yet another very stingy starter in righty Joe Ryan. The 27-year-old won his first five starts of the season before getting a no-decision in a scoreless six-inning effort and then wearing a loss despite allowing two runs over six frames. He’s struck out 47 batters to a mere six walks and has given up four homers, one each in his first four starts.
Though he lacks an overpowering fastball, Ryan operates with impeccable command and is the best pitcher in baseball when it comes to generating swings outside the zone. His 72.2% first-pitch strike rate is among the top three in the game, setting up the nasty splitter he’s incorporated this season. He throws the four-seam nearly 60% of the time and gets tremendous results despite the 93 mph velo and below-average spin.
Much of the fastball’s success comes from keeping it up in the zone, but hitters also have to be wary of the splitter that leads him to a 99th-percentile chase rate and the highest overall swing rate in baseball. Hitters swing at nearly 44% of his pitches outside the zone, four points higher than Kevin Gausman in second place. What this tells me is that Cubs hitters might want to be sitting dead red on first pitch and just trying to catch one.
Ryan has a slider as well, one that he can throw with more depth or sweep depending on what he needs, but the breaking stuff isn’t his bread and butter. As Cubs fans have seen with Mark Leiter Jr., having that splitter means Ryan is able to neutralize left-handed hitters. The splits are very close, though, so we’re talking about a difference of just 10 points in wOBA.
Because he pitches so efficiently, Ryan has saved the bullpen by going at least six innings in every start. If you figure on more of the same tonight, it’s going to take another very strong effort from Hayden Wesneski to keep pace. The young righty has tinkered with his mechanics and his routine to find a groove and has now allowed just one run in each of his last three starts. He finally started missing bats again the last time out, racking up six strikeouts with no walks.
Wesneski has faced more than 23 batters just once in his seven starts on the season, but he’s walked only two batters in his last five starts combined and should be able to get deeper into games. A lot of that comes from drawing out counts even when he’s not walking batters. It’d be great to see Wesneski just attack opponents in this one.
Provided he does that, it’ll be up to Madrigal to get things started at third base. Dansby Swanson is at short, Ian Happ is in left, and Cody Bellinger is in center. Seiya Suzuki is in right, Morel is at second, Mervis is at first, and Hosmer is the DH. Tucker Barnhart handles the catching duties. I really hope stacking lefties at the bottom works out, but this isn’t a matchup where the Cubs should be doing that.
First pitch is at 1:10pm CT on Marquee and 670 The Score.
Here is today's #Cubs starting lineup behind Hayden Wesneski!
— Chicago Cubs (@Cubs) May 13, 2023