Chicago Cubs Lineup: Schwarber Cleanup, Avila Fifth as Cubs Put Beardliness Against Godley-ness

If Anthony Rizzo saw fit to let a few whiskers sprout on his face, the top five in the Cubs lineup would look like something out of Game of Thrones. They’ve got some very strong beard game on the whole, as Ben Zobrist leads off and plays second, followed by Kris Bryant and Rizzo, with Khal Schwarber moving up to fourth.

The switch to cleanup is necessitated because Willson Contreras is taking a seat to watch Alex Avila’s first start with the Cubs. Addison Russell is next, with Jason Heyward in right and Jon Jay in center to face a tough righty. After going with seven right-handed bats last night, Joe Maddon has six lefties — including all three outfielders — this time around.

Maddon said yesterday that Schwarber and Heyward would probably see less time against lefties, which is actually a little curious. Since returning from a brief hibernation in the neighboring kingdom of Des Moines, War Bear is actually hitting .308 with three extra-base hits and three walks against southpaws. Heck, he picked up a hit and a walk against two lefty pitchers last night…in the same inning. And Heyward is batting .333 against lefties at home this season. So what gives?

Well, the samples in question are culled from 16 and 31 plate appearances, respectively, so they’re not really worth much. What is worth something is that 10 of Schwarber’s 17 home runs have come at Wrigley, all against righties. He might need to bust out the boomstick in what looks like a tough matchup for the Cubs.

Jake Arrieta great again? Maybe not quite, but he was certainly very good in five July starts. The former Cy Young winner isn’t striking out nearly as many batters with that nasty sliding cutter, but he’s been getting lots of contact on the ground and has limited the walks.

He’ll have his work cut out for him against a team that ranks among the top 10 in baseball in walks, OPS, and ISO. Arrieta has been leaning very heavily on the sinker over the last handful of starts, but being able to snap off the curve will be key to sustainable success. If trends hold, we could be seeing a pitchers’ duel tonight.

On the mound for the D-dbacks will be former Cubs farmhand Zack Godley, who’s making his second Wrigley Field start. Along with Jefferson Mejia, Godley was sent to Arizona for Miguel Montero back in December of 2014. The righty debuted with the D-backs the following season and worked mainly out of the pen last year, but has established himself quite nicely in 14 starts this season.

Godley is a big-time ground-ball guy, generating worm-burners at a 57.5 percent rate with a sinker/curve/cutter/change repertoire. That grounder percentage is the seventh highest in baseball among pitchers with at least 80 IP this season, and it’s got an interesting statistical counterpart. Godley allows opposite-field contact at a mere 19.1 percent rate, seventh lowest in baseball.

He gets those numbers by pounding the ball down, down, down. The sinker generally works over the plate, but those ancillaries all hammer down and away to righties and in to lefties. The latter group has managed only a .641 OPS against Godley, though that’s 103 points higher than their right-handed counterparts have mustered thus far on the season. The curve has been particularly nasty, limiting opposing hitters to a .417 OPS.

And he’ll roll the yakker up there nearly as often as the fastball, disguising it well by utilizing a similar arm slot for both. Well, he’s trying to do that with all of his pitches, but the curve is easily the most dangerous. Adding to the deception is the speed, since Godley throws the curve with an average velo of nearly 84 mph, significantly harder than the MLB average of 78.6 mph. That’s just part of it, though.

“My curveball isn’t like a lot of people’s,” Godley told AZ Central’s Nick Piecoro. “Usually if it’s a good curveball, I don’t really have a hump in it at all; it’s usually kind of flat and it goes straight down. That’s when I know it’s going well.”

That will be a challenge for a Cubs team that hasn’t necessarily fared well against breaking stuff, particularly lately. They’ll need to be wary of the curve and might need to hope Godley doesn’t have the feel for it. Either way, we’re probably in for a slow start tonight. Godley allows only a .468 OPS and .208 wOBA the first time through the order. Those jump to .808 and .344 the second time through, though, so he can be gotten to.

And in case you missed it, this Cubs team is starting to look like the same one we saw get to all kinds of great pitchers last year. That’s fun, they should do it more often.

First pitch is at 7:05 CT and will be carried by WGN, so tune in to see if the baby bears’ bearded battery can baffled the ‘Backs’ bats.

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