Chicago Cubs Lineup (4/16/24): Hoerner Leads Off, Happ Hits 7th, Canario RF, Hendricks Starting

For the sake of getting to bed at a reasonable hour, I really hope this game gets lopsided early. The only trouble with such desires is that having Kyle Hendricks and his 12.08 ERA on the mound means it’s entirely possible the Cubs could be on the wrong end of the beatdown. They stretched things out last night, getting just enough in the end to capture another one-run lead and forcing the bullpen to throw a lot more high-leverage innings as a result.

Hendricks has allowed at least eight hits and five earned runs in each of his three starts, but he has at least increased his innings pitched each time. The five homers obscure the fact that Hendricks has gotten a lot of grounders and isn’t giving up more hard contact than usual, it’s just a matter of not missing enough bats.

His 12.1% strikeout rate would be the worst of his career if he maintains it and his 5.0% swinging-strike rate is among the eight lowest in baseball right now. It’s early enough for those numbers to shift markedly with a good outing or three, though there’s been little to suggest Hendricks will make a sharp turnaround. If he’s going to get back to an acceptable level of performance, it may be a more gradual process.

That puts pressure on the offense to score early and often after puttering along for a few games. Craig Counsell is trying to spur more scoring by moving Nico Hoerner up to the leadoff spot following his late-game heroics last night. Dansby Swanson bats second, Cody Bellinger is next, and Christopher Morel bats fourth while playing third. Garrett Cooper is the DH, Michael Busch goes for his franchise-record sixth straight game with a homer, Ian Happ slides to seventh in the order, and Miguel Amaya is the catcher. Alexander Canario gets his first MLB start of the year in right batting ninth.

They’re facing lefty Tommy Henry, who debuted in 2022 and has bounced between Triple-A and the bigs ever since. The No. 74 overall pick in 2019 moved very quickly through the system, tossing three innings at Low-A that first year and then going straight to Double-A following the COVID shutdown. He made 23 starts at that level, then moved up to Triple-A for 21 starts in ’22 before being called up.

A combination of walks and homers has kept his ERA north of 5 for the most part, and that’s the case this year with a 5.79 ERA that doesn’t seem to be the product of bad luck. Henry is a stereotypical southpaw with a low-90s fastball/sinker combo, a curve, change, and slider. The latter two of those pitches are doing well, particularly the change, but he’s got to be able to get to it.

The big problem seems to be that almost all of his heat maps have bright red spots right in the heart of the zone. The four-seam isn’t up consistently enough and the sinker hangs thigh-high too often, then the curve fails to get below the knees as much as it should and the change misses middle-middle. That leads to a lot of barrels and a very good chance for a ball or two to leave the yard.

Henry will probably get a handful of strikeouts, so it’s all about making him pay for the mistakes that he should make with high frequency. Because he doesn’t have a good weapon against lefties and tends to cut his fastball a little, Henry has been crushed by like-handed hitters for his career. Left-handed batters have a combined .888 OPS with a .384 wOBA against him and it’s time for opposing managers to realize that.

This could be just what the doctor ordered for both Hendricks and the Cubs’ bats, but matchups like this seem to go against logic far too often. As nice as a blowout would be, I get the sense that the baseball gods want to torture us for one more night before the team gets back to Chicago.

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

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