Chicago Cubs Lineup (5/22/24): Hoerner Leads Off, Morel DH, Steele on Mound

The Cubs squeaked out just enough to win last night, walking it off on a high chopper from Nico Hoerner in the 10th inning. It was shocking that the game ended up 4-3 on a night when the wind was howling out and seemingly should have carried every routine fly ball into the bleachers, so it’s funny that the winning hit never even made it past the infield grass.

It was Hoerner’s only hit in the game after three strikeouts in his first action since sitting for nearly a week with a tight hamstring, proof that sometimes it’s better to be lucky than good. That sky-high bounce off the dirt in front of home plate probably doesn’t happen if the ground is damp, plus Hoerner was looking for something from groundball specialist Aaron Bummer that could be lifted in the air to score Cody Bellinger from third. Regardless, a series-opening win is good no matter how it happens.

Justin Steele has a chance to lock in a series win, but he’s going to have to improve his recent performance to get it done. With 10 earned runs allowed over 9.2 innings over his last two starts, the lefty isn’t looking at all like an ace. His limited repertoire hasn’t played as well in those games and it looks like his cut-ride fastball is the main culprit. The slider was pretty rough on May 11 against the Pirates, but the heater was terrible when he faced the Bucs five days later.

It’s interesting to note that Steele has been throwing the changeup a little more often, so let’s keep an eye on that trend. After giving up multiple homers and putting his team in early holes the last two times out, a hot start would be refreshing.

That goes for the bats as well. Hoerner will lead off at second base, followed by Seiya Suzuki in right and Cody Bellinger in center. Christopher Morel is the DH, Patrick Wisdom is at first, and Dansby Swanson is the shortstop. Ian Happ is in left, Nick Madrigal is at third, and Miguel Amaya is the catcher.

Madrigal over Luis Vázquez is a choice that further hints toward my suspicion that the prospect’s promotion may be strategic in a way. He’s got a better glove than Madrigal and has played third, but maybe the Cubs don’t intend to leverage that. Vázquez has been slumping and this could be a way to give him a mental break while also rewarding his strong work over the last year-plus. It’s weird to effectively play shorthanded, but he can also spell the nicked-up middle infielders if needed.

When Bellinger steps to the plate tonight, it’s going to be baked vs. Fried, as in Max Fried, who the Cubs missed in Atlanta last week. The slender southpaw is off to what would be his worst big league season, striking out fewer and walking more batters than ever with a 3.81 ERA that might be aided by good fortune. What the numbers hide, however, is that Fried has had some incredibly good performances this year.

He’s allowed no hits in two of his last four starts and pitched a complete-game shutout five starts ago, but then allowed nine hits with just two strikeouts and three walks against the Padres the last time out. Simply put, he’s been wildly inconsistent. His 94 mph fastball plays a big role there because it’s been either very good or very bad.

The curveball he throws about 20% of the time has been more of the same, largely because he’s hanging it middle-middle too often. Fried’s best pitch has been the firm changeup that comes in around 86 mph and stays arm-side without as much drop as most similar offerings due to his two-seam type of grip.

While the samples are close to equivalent, Fried’s platoon splits are wildly disparate so far. Right-handed batters are slashing .143/.236/.193 with a .206 wOBA and lefties are at .442/.500/.605 with a .484 wOBA. Even though it’s only 48 batters in the latter group, the numbers are bonkers. That tends to happen when you throw pitches that end up in hitters’ nitro zones.

Fried typically doesn’t have two bad games in a row, so that stinker against the Pads might be bad news. But hey, maybe the Cubs can leverage those higher walk numbers — he’s had three or more free passes in five of his nine starts — to rattle him early.

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

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