Chicago Cubs Lineup (4/20/24, Game 1): Hoerner Leads Off, Madrigal at 3B, Assad Starting

I botched yesterday’s lineup post even though it was already set from Thursday’s postponed game. The problem is that I was on a college campus visit with my daughter and totally forgot about the lineup until we were on the road home and I realized the game had already started. That got me wondering whether the effort I put into writing this up is even worth it, so I want to ask a question:

Would you care if these things just were stripped down to the bare bones or even discontinued?

I actually enjoy doing the research on the opposing pitcher because it helps my overall insight on the craft and I think a lot of the scouting reports end up being dead on. That said, I could do the same thing without the extra time if it’s not valuable to others. Anyway, I’ll stick with the standard formula here and will adjust accordingly for the late game and future contests based on what people think.

Javier Assad has a decent claim to being the staff ace through three turns of the rotation thanks to a spotless record and 2.17 ERA. He’s had to work around homers in each of the last two games, however, and his control has gotten a little shaky even if it hasn’t always shown up in his walk totals. His fastball velocity is down slightly from previous seasons even though its effectiveness hasn’t suffered, now he just needs to dial in the cutter and slider.

Pitching anywhere close to what he has should be enough to allow this opportunistic offense to do its thing. Nico Hoerner is back in the leadoff spot since Ian Happ is dealing with a little hamstring tightness, then it’s Patrick Wisdom in right and Chris Morel at DH. Dansby Swanson is at short, Garrett Cooper is at first, Mike Tauchman is in center, and Nick Madrigal is at third. Miguel Amaya is the catcher and Alexander Canario is in left.

They’re facing 26-year-old lefty Jesús Luzardo, the second of three southpaws the Marlins are starting over this long weekend series. Luzardo needs to resurrect his performance from the two previous seasons if he wants to have a chance in this one because he’s been a mess early. His first start was quite good, with eight strikeouts and just two hits allowed, but he’s K’d only 13 batters with 19 hits allowed over his last three games.

And the thing about that first start is that one of the two hits left the yard, giving Luzardo at least one homer surrendered in each of his four outings. He walked five Yankees two starts ago and has generally struggled with efficiency here in the early going. That’s due to erratic location with just about every pitch. His 96 mph fastball has natural cut and almost always ends up in the glove-side third of the zone, but its heat map looks like an amoeba.

The slider has been a mediocre pitch for him overall, with just one season in which it generated positive run value, and it’s once again causing him problems. While its map lays out the kind of shape you’d expect to see, the brightest red is middle-down in the zone and there’s a tiny pinkish dot that sits a little too far glove-side than you’d want for back-footing righties. So batters can either hit or spit, which has been the case.

Luzardo’s changeup has likewise gotten poor results, in part because it’s catching way too much of the zone. Last up is a sinker he likes to throw up in the zone, which could make him a guy Cubs pitching coach Tommy Hottovy has his eye on. The Cubs have long taught that strategy, though Hottovy hasn’t had a starter who can do it at nearly 97 mph from the left side.

Now, I don’t want you to read all of that and think this guy is just going to be a pushover. He’s going to get plenty of whiffs, as indicated by a 13.9% swinging-strike rate that sits 13th among 85 qualified pitchers. The problem is that his 14.4% called-strike rate is 76th among that same group, leading to deep counts and too many mistake cookies.

Luzardo would have presented a big problem for Cubs teams of the previous few seasons, but this feels like exactly the kind of matchup this lineup can exploit. We’ll find out if that’s the case when the game gets underway at 1:20pm CT on Marquee and 670 The Score.

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