Chicago Cubs Lineup (3/26/24): Happ DH, Mastrobuoni LF, Imanaga Starting Final Spring Game

This is it, folks, the final game of spring training before the Cubs head to Texas to face the Rangers. After a good deal of cussing and discussing since the end of last season, the roster is set and it looks to be a fair bit better than last year. Don’t agree? Let’s take a look.

Eric Hosmer has been replaced by Michael Busch, Edwin Ríos by Garrett Cooper, Luis Torrens and Tucker Barnhart by Miguel Amaya, Trey Mancini by Christopher Morel, then you have Mike Tauchman and Miles Mastrobuoni. Hayden Wesneski gave way to Jordan Wicks, Brad Boxberger to Luke Little, Michael Rucker to Héctor Neris, Keegan Thompson to José Cuas, and Michael Fulmer to Yency Almonte. A couple of those might be splitting hairs, but it’s way better on paper.

Then there’s Shōta Imanaga for Marcus Stroman, which I think will end up being a big upgrade as well. Stroman was solid in two partial seasons for the Cubs, but his Cy Young-caliber first half in 2023 was followed by a disastrous run in the final three months or so. Injuries limited him to just 25 starts in both campaigns and he failed to reach 140 innings in either.

Imanaga is a different type of pitcher who will give up a lot more homers while also striking out far more batters, so we’re comparing apples to elephants in a way. The primary measuring stick will be whether he can take the bump every 5-6 days and put up competitive outings on a consistent basis. This is the last time we’ll see him prior to the Cubs’ home opener, at which point his on-the-job learning will still not be done.

As long as Imanaga can continue working the fastball up in the zone and lean on that splitter just a little more, he should be able to transition successfully to the bigs.

This final game at Sloan yet again features a pretty regular lineup with some small tweaks, starting with Ian Happ leading off as the DH. That’s a matter of keeping him as fresh as possible after the Cubs said his recovery from a hamstring strain had plateaued. Nico Hoerner is at second, Cody Bellinger is in center, Morel is at third, and Dansby Swanson is at short. Amaya is the catcher, Tauchman is in right, Cooper is at first, and Mastrobuoni is in left.

They’re facing 36-year-old Kyle Gibson, one of several elder statesmen the Cardinals added to the rotation for this season. Gibson is about five months younger than Lance Lynn and also hails from central Indiana, though the two never pitched against each other in high school. It was close, though, as Gibson led Greenfield-Central to the regional finals during his junior year in 2005 and fell three wins shy of facing Lynn’s Brownsburg juggernaut in the state championship.

Gibson’s squad lost in the semi-state the following year to Cathedral, where he had attended as a freshman prior to transferring. This is back when the IHSAA was really strict on transfers and forced him to sit out his sophomore season. So why am I including all of this in a preview of a matchup between the Cubs and Cardinals? That’s a good question.

In addition to enjoying the full-circle nature of the whole thing, I currently reside in Brownsburg and my son plays baseball here. I doubt he’ll end up becoming the school’s third Mr. Baseball behind Lynn and Tucker Barnhart, but he’s enjoying the ride so far and will begin his season next week.

Gibson made a career-high 33 starts for Baltimore last season by pitching pretty much in line with his 4.54 career ERA. He’s a crafty righty with a six-pitch mix that sees him throw the sinker about a quarter of the time with the slider, change, cutter, and four-seam all making up 13-19% of his repertoire. The curve accounts for the remaining 8% or so, but it’s pretty hit-or-miss.

The slider has been his best offering by far and really took off last season when he took a little off and converted it to a sweeper. It went from 83-84 mph to 81-82 and dive-bombs the lower glove-side corner of the zone for whiffs and weak contact. He isn’t going to overpower anyone, but he can be dangerous when ahead in the count. Members of this Cubs roster have been very successful against Gibson in the past, so that’s something we’ll dig into when the games matter.

The last first pitch of spring is at 2:05pm CT on Marquee Sports Network to give the teams an extra hour to pack up and get out of town.

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