Chicago Cubs Lineup (4/2/24): Hoerner Leads Off, Morel DH, Assad on Mound

The Cubs can build on their longest winning streak of the season and get over .500 with a win over the Rockies in the first home night game of 2024. Tonight also marks the latest start time of the season, though only by minutes over Opening Day in Arlington. That’s assuming they get the game in, but the forecast looks to be okay.

It’ll still be very cool of course, with plenty of wind and maybe a little drizzle, but Cubs Weather said Tuesday morning that there appears to be a dry window in the evening. Javier Assad has some big shoes to fill after lefties Jordan Wicks and Shota Imanaga shoved in their respective starts, but the weather should take the edge off a Rockies lineup that isn’t all that scary.

The Cubs, on the other hand, have been picking up steam with a balanced attack that sees them reaching base at a decent clip thanks to 19 walks. They have yet to steal a base, however, and they have hit just two home runs so far. I expect both of those trends to improve with the weather, though we should see them getting more aggressive on the bases here soon.

Nico Hoerner is exactly the person to set the pace there and he’s leading off at second base tonight, followed by Seiya Suzuki in right and Cody Bellinger in center. Christopher Morel is the DH, Dansby Swanson is at short, Ian Happ is in left, and Garrett Cooper is at first. Nick Madrigal is at third and Miguel Amaya gets another start behind the plate.

They’re up against Kyle Freeland, who’s making his second start of the young season after a disastrous night in Arizona last week. The Rockies’ Opening Day starter lasted just 2.1 innings after giving up 10 runs on 10 hits, with almost all of the damage coming in the 3rd inning. Freeland gave up a pair of runs on a single and homer in the opening frame, then settled down the next inning.

Then everything fell apart for him, as the first seven batters reached to start the 3rd. After a fly out, Freeland gave up another double and was mercifully lifted. The Diamondbacks ended up with six more hits, a walk, and a sac fly before being retired with a 16-1 edge. The wildest part was that they only had the one homer and three doubles to go with 14 base hits.

In any case, Freeland is either reeling from that stinker or he’s primed for a huge rebound. He looked pretty good in spring training, allowing five earned runs on 16 hits in 19 innings. He also struck out 16 with three walks, so totally acceptable numbers. Still, it’s not exactly ace-level stuff from the eighth overall pick in 2014 to whom the Rox gave a five-year, $64.5 million deal in 2022.

Freeland has at least been consistent even if he’s not exactly a workhorse and has only had an ERA better than 4.33 twice in seven seasons. Both of those were in his first two campaigns, with his second year marking the only time he’s exceeded 32 starts or 200 innings. Not a big strikeout guy, Freeland had been doing a pretty good job of keeping the ball on the ground earlier in his career.

But after producing grounder rates of at least 45% through 2021, he dropped to 42% two years ago and 40% last year. His strikeout rates dropped markedly as well as he set career new career lows in each of the last two seasons. Among qualified pitchers in 2023, only Miles Mikolas (7.3%) generated swinging strikes at a lower rate than Freeland (7.8%) and no one was below Freeland’s 13.9% K-rate or his 5.43 K/9.

The lefty was in single-digit percentiles across seven different Statcast metrics, including pitching run value, fastball velo, and whiff percentage. While he was at least throwing a little harder last week, averaging around 92 mph on the heater instead of his 89 mph from last year, we’re talking about a very small sample.

After throwing the sinker more frequently the last two years, Freeland may be looking to lean harder on the four-seam again. He has struggled badly with all of his secondaries, particularly the changeup and curve, but he threw the slider way more than either of them last year. There’s nothing to indicate he’ll suddenly right the ship, particularly with the cooler temps potentially messing with his feel, but it wouldn’t be the first time the Cubs have been baffled by an underwhelming opponent.

Let’s hope things go according to plan and the offense keeps making things happen tonight. First pitch is at 6:40pm CT on Marquee and 670 The Score.

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