Chicago Cubs Lineup (5/28/24): Hoerner Leads Off, Morel at 3B, Wesneski Going for Series W

The Cubs have already shown an ability to bounce back from tough losses, but yesterday wasn’t nearly the same as other contests that saw them snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. They were absolutely boatraced in a laugher that you can’t even begin to take seriously, so you do what Joe Maddon always talked about and you throw it in the trash. Even so, the series is on the line tonight in Boston.

Jordan Wicks was initially scheduled to take this start, but he was scratched due to left forearm tightness and will be replaced by Hayden Wesneski. This is the righty’s first start of the season after a pair of multi-inning relief appearances, both of which were scoreless. Wesneski has only allowed 1 hit over 6.1 innings and he’s struck out three batters with no walks.

The strikeout numbers are a little lower than you’d like to see even in such a small sample, though it’s easy to live with them when everything else is working well. It’s all about the sweeper for Wesneski, and it has to be when he throws it nearly 50% of the time. He loves to front-hit righties and get them flinching at pitches that end up in the heart of the zone, so expect a lot of that tonight.

Regardless of what Wesneski does on the mound, it’ll be for naught if the offense can’t get anything going. Nico Hoerner is leading off at second, Mike Tauchman is in right, Ian Happ is in left, and Christopher Morel is back at third after leaving yesterday’s game in the wake of a bad spill. Michael Busch is at first, Dansby Swanson is at short, Matt Mervis is the DH, Miguel Amaya is the catcher, and Pete Crow-Armstrong is in center.

They’re facing righty Tanner Houck, who somehow has two losses already despite a 1.65 ERA through five starts. Those happened to be the only two games in which he allowed any runs, so maybe the Cubs don’t need to do much on offense after all. Interestingly enough, Houck has only walked batters in those losses.

In his three wins, he’s tossed 21 scoreless innings with just 10 hits allowed and 26 strikeouts; the most recent of those starts was a complete game against the Guardians that saw him throw just 94 pitches. Houck has tossed 91 or more in each of his last four starts and will certainly do the same unless the Cubs can jump on him early.

Like Wesneski, Houck leads with breaking stuff. He throws his slider about 43% of the time and keeps it in the bottom third along the glove-side edge of the zone. At just 83 mph, it’s 10 ticks below his sinker velocity and has been incredibly effective due to both its shape and speed disparity. He works up in the zone with his sinker, busting right-handed hitters in, then he’s got a splitter that tumbles down in the middle of the zone. There’s also a cutter that works arm-side, though it’s been pretty terrible for him so far.

Houck is a little better than league-average at getting whiffs, but his called-strike percentage is nearly three points higher than his colleagues and currently sits 10th in MLB. Put the two numbers together and you get a 31.6% called-plus-swinging-strike rate that is fourth overall. Simply put, this is a dude who is willing to throw strikes because he knows he can beat hitters in the zone one way or the other.

He gets a lot of grounders and has allowed only one homer so far because he avoids barrels so well. This feels like a matchup where the Cubs may need Houck to be off his game because it’s going to be very tough sledding otherwise. But hey, that can happen and they forced Kutter Crawford to lay an egg on Friday.

First pitch is at 7:10 ET on ESPN and 670 The Score.

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