Chicago Cubs Lineup (5/6/24): Hoerner Leads Off, Madrigal at 3B, Steele Returns

The Cubs came in ninth in MLB Network’s power rankings, which is notable because the Brewers can be found two spots higher. Even though I know it’s engagement-bait, stuff like this really chaps my ass. Oh well, winning two of three over the weekend to move into first place is far more important than a meaningless top 10 list. Even more important is that the Cubs are getting reinforcements this week.

Justin Steele is back on the bump for the first time since leaving his Opening Day start with a hamstring strain. Even though FanGraphs still has him listed at Triple-A as of this writing, Steele has been activated for Monday’s game. He only went 4.2 innings against the Rangers and logged just 3.1 frames in his lone rehab start, so Craig Counsell may give the lefty a short leash.

That said, Steele looked every bit as aggressive and efficient in Texas as he was last season when he was a surprise Cy Young contender. Getting another effort like that would provide a huge emotional lift for the Cubs, but I think we’d all prefer to see the bats get hot as well.

Nico Hoerner leads off at second base, followed by Mike Tauchman in right and Ian Happ is in left. Christopher Morel is the DH, Michael Busch is at first, Dansby Swanson is at short, and Nick Madrigal is at third. Pete Crow-Armstrong is in center and Yan Gomes is behind the plate.

They’re facing Yu Darvish for the second time after busting him up pretty badly back in San Diego a month ago. Darvish spent most of the latter half of April on the IL due to neck tightness that may have come from whipping around to watch all the hits he’s given up. Okay, it’s not actually that bad. He is showing very obvious signs of decline in his age-37 season, however.

Along with a dip in velocity, Darvish’s strikeout rate (24.1%) and swinging-strike rate (10%) are the lowest of his career by far. And though he’s been able to avoid barrels, his 48.2% hard-hit rate is 10 points higher than in any previous season. That may be a matter of catching too much of the heart of the zone with the pitches he throws most often: four-seam, slider, sweeper, and sinker. His splitter is hanging up a little too much as well.

Even with the diminution of his talent, we’re still talking about a very good pitcher whose unparalleled repertoire allows him to mix and match based on his opponent. It’s just that Darvish now has considerably less margin for error as his stuff erodes with age, making him much less frightening than at times in the past. If the Cubs can be patient, they should be able to capitalize on what should be far more mistakes than usual.

First pitch from Wrigley is at 6:40pm CT on Marquee and 670 The Score.

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