This weekend could serve as a litmus test for the Cubs, who’ve been beating up on lesser teams over the last two weeks and now face a real challenge in the Braves. Boasting the best record in baseball and replete with sluggers and aces alike, Atlanta is not simply winning a bad division by default. But does anyone remember what happened the last time the supposed best team in baseball visited Wrigley?
The Cubs took two of three from the Rays back in late May and Tampa has been treading water ever since. The Braves aren’t exactly playing the role of juggernaut in the second half either, what with their 9-8 record following the break. This series shouldn’t make or break the season, but the Cubs can add a great deal of legitimacy with strong play over the next three games.
Kyle Hendricks has been pitching well for the most part, though you always worry a little bit when the conditions are ripe for homers. He’s done a much better job of avoiding the longball outside of starts against the Yankees and Red Sox in mid-July, and he’ll need to keep the ball on the ground as much as possible when facing the team with the most homers in MLB.
It’ll help if the Cubs’ bats keep making all kinds of loud noises, which will start this afternoon with Nick Madrigal at second base. Don’t worry, it’s just a standard day off for Nico Hoerner. Dansby Swanson is at short, Ian Happ is in left, and Cody Bellinger is in center. Yan Gomes serves as the DH, Seiya Suzuki is in right, Jeimer Candelario is at third, and Patrick Wisdom plays first. Miguel Amaya rounds things out behind the plate.
They’ll be facing Max Fried, who was just activated from the IL after being out for three months with a left forearm strain. The southpaw has made just five starts this year, three of which were scoreless while another saw just a single tally scratched out against him. Will the Braves treat him with kid gloves or does the long layoff mean he’s rested enough to go deep?
Fried’s success comes from having four pitches with positive value, which is more rare than you might think even for top-tier pitchers. There’s usually at least one offering that’s just there for show, but Fried hasn’t had a negative pitch type in any of the last four seasons. Okay, the sinker hasn’t been great on paper this season due to getting rocked in his last start.
His mid-90’s heater sets up a curve, change, and slider that can all do damage. Though he gets plenty of whiffs, Fried isn’t a huge strikeout guy. Instead, he avoids walks and keeps the ball on the ground to work efficiently. Always among the best in baseball at limiting homers, the key to beating him is typically to put the ball in play and hope it finds grass.
Bellinger has by far the most experience against today’s starter in his career and has hit him well, as he has all lefties this season. Might have something to do with being baked, not Fried. Happ has two solo homers against the lanky southpaw and I have a feeling Swanson will show out this weekend against his former team.
The Cubs have taken care of business by beating the teams they’re supposed to beat, now they have a chance to show they can hang with the best. First pitch from Wrigley is at 1:20pm CT on Marquee and 670 The Score.
Here is today's #Cubs starting lineup!
— Chicago Cubs (@Cubs) August 4, 2023