Chicago Cubs Lineup (4/15/24): Happ Leads Off, Cooper DH, Brown Starting

The Cubs pulled out a dramatic victory to close their series in Seattle with a win and now they’re in Arizona with a chance to produce a victorious road trip. The Diamondbacks are right at .500 through 16 games and will get reinforcements when Jordan Montgomery joins them, but they’re a very confident group that’s more than capable of putting up a fight.

Ben Brown is on the bump for the second time as the official starter and could build on his 77 pitches from last week if he continues to pitch well. He went 4.2 innings in San Diego after throwing four innings against the Rockies, so he may get into the 6th with 80+ pitches tonight. The risk with Brown is that he’s not a big-time strike-thrower and will be out of the zone a lot, but he’ll be fine as long as he’s not issuing walks.

Working confidently and letting his stuff play without nibbling or guiding is the formula for Brown’s success. He walked just one batter in each of his last two appearances after walking two in what ended up being a very rough debut. As simple as it sounds, he really needs to throw strikes against a D-backs team that ranks sixth in MLB with a 10.0% walk rate.

The Cubs are three spots above with a 10.6% mark, though they strike out a little more frequently than their opponents in this one. Things are going to be shaken up a bit for a while with Seiya Suzuki on the IL, but Ian Happ remains in the leadoff spot playing left field. Dansby Swanson moves up to the two-hole at short, Cody Bellinger is in center, and Christopher Morel is at third. Michael Busch is at first, Garrett Cooper is the DH, and Nico Hoerner is at second. Mike Tauchman handles right and Miguel Amaya is the catcher.

Going for Arizona is 35-year-old Merrill Kelly, who continues to shove with one of the best changeups in the game. He’s actually throwing his change less frequently this season, opting for a balanced approach that sees him leading with the cutter. The slider has also seen a big uptick in usage, to nearly 18% after being at just 5.5% last year and not being part of Kelly’s repertoire at all prior.

He’s thrown exactly as many sliders (47) as changeups, with the four-seam (56) and cutter (67) making up the biggest chunks. The sinker (28) also gets steady usage and the curve (21) comes out on occasion. That balanced attack allows him to keep hitters from guessing and might make it tough on the Cubs, who haven’t seen much of him as a group.

Bellinger’s 25 at-bats represent one-third of the team’s experience against Kelly, which you’d expect from their days as NL West rivals. Belli’s .957 OPS and two homers run slightly counter to expectations since Kelly has mild reverse splits for his career. Right-handed hitters are really getting to him this season, though things could even out quickly over just a game or two at this early juncture.

The Cubs should see plenty of pitches to hit since Kelly doesn’t walk many batters, but the issue is going to be whether they’re the kind of pitches that can be barreled up. With one of the lowest hard-hit rates in the game right now, Kelly rarely hurts himself. This one might come down to stringing together a few singles and perhaps getting more aggressive on the bases than they’ve been to this point.

First pitch is once again at 8:40pm CT on Marquee and 670 The Score.

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