Chicago Cubs Lineup (3/15/23): Morel in LF, Happ DH, Taillon Starting

After winning two in a row to stoke the fires of hope once more, the Cubs lost twice to the Twins in spectacularly ugly fashion. Now they have three in a row against the defending world champs in Houston, though the Astros aren’t playing like a team looking to repeat. They’re still a good squad, though, and the Cubs don’t exactly have their ace on the mound.

Jameson Taillon has made five starts so far this season, only one of which was good. He has yet to go more than five innings and his last two outings since returning from the IL with a groin strain have not lasted more than three frames. Taillon is striking out more batters than ever, though he’s not generating more swinging or called strikes than usual.

The issue is that he’s been really hittable because he’s leaving too many strikes over the plate, leading to more barrels and less soft contact than usual. He really needs to get dialed in so his outings are more consistent than the boom-bust we’ve seen so far.

Christopher Morel has been crushing the ball since being called up and he’s back in the leadoff spot playing left field. I like how David Ross is moving him around the field, that’s where he’s best. Dansby Swanson is at short, Ian Happ is the DH, and Seiya Suzuki is in right. Cody Bellinger is in center, Patrick Wisdom is at third, and Trey Mancini is at first. Yan Gomes is the catcher and Nick Madrigal rounds things out at second base.

Going for Houston is stout southpaw Framber Valdez, who has allowed a total of eight earned runs in his four losses this season. In contrast to Taillon, Valdez has pitched as few as five frames just once in eight starts and can be counted on to go deep into the game. He walks very few batters and gets grounders at an incredibly high rate, so many of his mistakes end up getting wiped away by double plays.

As you may have already guessed, Valdez is a sinker specialist who goes bowling about 48% of the time. He offsets that 95 mph hard stuff with a big curve at 80 mph that he’s actually throwing a little less than usual. The bender used to make up over one-third of his offerings, but it’s down around 26% now. That’s because he’s throwing the cutter a lot more and has increased his changeup usage a bit as well.

After being relatively split-neutral throughout his career, Valdez is getting hammered by left-handed hitters early on this year. Part of that is due to the small sample, as he’s faced just 30 lefties to 180 righties, but it’s still notable that he’s not putting like-handed hitters away. Valdez has a tendency to leave pitches in the zone and he will definitely give up hits — he’s allowed eight on three occasions already — so the Cubs just need to string some knocks together.

I don’t really like this matchup, but maybe the bats wake up and Taillon twirls a gem. We’ll find out at 7:10pm CT on Marquee and 670 The Score.

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