Chicago Cubs Lineup (6/26/24): Same Lineup, Different Day, Battle of Haydens on Mound

The only thing I’m looking forward to in this one, and I’m talking about the mildest level of anticipation at best, is the first-ever matchup of starting pitchers named Hayden. Don’t fact-check that. While there are roughly 571 such homonymous tilts every weekend in youth travel ball, I’m confident it’s never happened in MLB. As for what those respective pitchers and their teams do tonight, however, I can’t say I’m frothing up with anticipation.

Hayden Wesneski has been fine as a reliever, but his numbers across the board are very similar to when he works as a starter, which is disappointing. The strikeouts are up a little but the walks are double, effectively washing out lower average and slugging against. Wesneski has given up six homers in 41 innings, but four of those dingers have come over his last six outings. In that same time, he’s walked eight batters with only six strikeouts.

That big sweeper serves him well for the most part and his 94 mph fastball is okay, but his 10.3% swinging-strike rate is below league average (10.9%). He does get a few more called strikes than his colleagues to get his overall swinging/called rate to 27.5% (league average 27.4%), so there’s that. The issue is that he’s not putting away enough batters and ends up letting guys hang around a little too long.

Dialing in the fastball location might help, as he’s got a broad band of bright red on his heat map stretching all the way across the middle third of the zone from corner to corner. Divide the zone into nine boxes and imagine taking a fat highlighter from the upper-arm side corner to the lower-glove side corner of boxes 4-6 and you’ve got Wesneski’s fastball. Or maybe switch the implement to a watercolor brush because there’s a fair bit of pink bleeding out.

Unless and until he’s able to convert some of those called strikes to whiffs, Wesneski is going to have a hard time working as either a starter or high-leverage reliever. He’s the opener today, though, so all he’s got to do is make it through the Giants lineup once. Whether the Cubs can do anything to support him remains an open question.

Tonight’s lineup is identical to the one that struggled to score one run yesterday, so this will either bring redemption or more questions about Craig Counsell‘s fitness for the job. Fun times.

They’re up against Hayden Birdsong, who is making his MLB debut after a rapid ascension through the organization. Drafted in the sixth round in 2022, Birdsong pitched briefly that fall in the Arizona Complex League and Low-A. He then shot through three levels in 2023 and repeated Double-A to start this season before making just two starts at Triple-A. Dud has been a strikeout machine in the minors, racking up 247 Ks in 169.2 innings (13.1 K/9).

That comes from a mid-90s fastball that can touch 98 along with an upper-70s hammer of a curveball. There are questions about his ability to stick as a starter due to a high walk rate, but the stuff is there for Birdsong to make hitters look foolish in any role. He’s stretched out enough to throw 90+ pitches and could work deep if his command is on point. How patient the Cubs are tonight should determine how quickly they get to the bullpen.

Even if the bats get going early, it’s possible Bob Melvin will make his rookie wear one after going with two bullpen games in a row. Raise your hand if you think the Cubs can actually score enough runs to make that happen. C’mon, don’t be shy. Wow, okay, no confidence at all. If it’s any consolation, I didn’t raise mine either because I have little faith and I have to keep typing.

While I’d love for this to end up as one of those games we all point back to as the moment things turned around, it feels at least as likely that it’ll be another example of this season’s imminent failure. The good news for those of you who’ve already given up hope is that it’s a late start, which is equally bad news for those who still believe and those degenerates who have resorted to hate-watching.

First pitch is at 8:45pm CT on Marquee and 670 The Score.

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