Chicago Cubs Lineup (4/25/24): Happ DH, PCA in CF, Assad Going for Sweep on Getaway Day

It’s Getaway Day, which means a full slate of afternoon baseball across MLB. The Cubs are shipping up to Boston after this one and it sure would be nice to do so on the wave of a sweep. The first game was a pretty easy victory and the second was a nail-biter that saw them barely hang on after producing all of their offense in the opening frame. How about a blowout in this one?

Javier Assad has proven capable of holding his opponents down, with no more than two earned runs allowed in any of his four previous starts. He has had some control issues, however, as evidenced by three walks in two of those outings. That was the case against Miami the last time out, a game in which he was unable to complete five innings.

As long as he stays consistent and doesn’t provide the Astros with too many opportunities, the Cubs offense should be able to scratch out a few tallies. Nico Hoerner has been sizzling for the past several games and he leads things off once again at second base. Mike Tauchman is in right, Ian Happ is the DH as he rests that hammy, Michael Busch looks to get right as the cleanup man at first base, and Dansby Swanson is at short.

Nick Madrigal gets a rare start at third, Miguel Amaya is the catcher, Pete Crow-Armstrong patrols center, and Alexander Canario is in left. Injuries have dictated quite a different group from what you’d prefer, but maybe they can spark something special just the same.

On the hill for the Astros is the ageless wonder Justin Verlander, who’s making the second start of his 39th MLB season. Okay, he’s actually 41 years old and this is just his 21st season — 22 if you count 2021, which he sat out due to elbow reconstruction — spread across three teams. Remember when the Mets signed him to a massive deal to pair him with Max Scherzer and then ended up trading both players to AL West teams in Texas?

LOL, Mets.

Anyway, this version of Verlander is just a wee bit removed from the perennial Cy Young contender we saw way back in the day. You know, like when he won it two years ago after having also won in 2019. His velocity is down nearly two ticks across the board, though, and his strikeout rate has been in freefall since that ’19 campaign, from a career-best 35.4% to 21.5% last year. To be fair, he was at 25.8% in his first Cy Young season with Detroit in 2011.

Verlander struck out four Nationals with no walks over six innings in his season debut last week, allowing just two runs on four hits in the victory. While it’s hard to know whether and how his pitch mix may have changed because we’ve only got that lone start, he’s steadily dialed back the slider after having ramped it up to nearly 40% in the shortened 2020 season. The four-seam figures to remain his primary offering even though it’s only sitting 93-94 mph, then he’s got a curve and a changeup.

The latter was his best pitch against the Nats, if it’s even fair to say that about something he threw nine times. He loves to keep it arm-side and did so to an extreme degree that last time out, making it a nice complement to the slider that has similar velocity with opposite location. The curve gives him a nice change of pace as well because it sits upper 70s and he can work it up for get-me-over strikes and down for swings and misses.

That balanced repertoire has made Verlander a relatively split-neutral pitcher over the course of his long career and there’s no reason to believe that will change in his twilight. The Cubs will want to get on him early to keep him from finding his groove, something I feel they’ll be able to do even with a patchwork lineup.

First pitch is at 1:20pm CT on Marquee and 670 The Score.

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