Chicago Cubs Lineup (7/11/24): Hoerner Leads Off, Mastrobuoni at 3B, Steele Starting for…Sweep?

The Cubs have won three in a row for the first time since late April and they’ve set themselves up for their first sweep of more than a two-gamer since that same time. They beat the Astros thrice at Wrigley from April 23-25 and then won their first game in Boston to move to 17-9, giving them one of the better records in the league. That feels like a very long time ago, maybe even like it never really happened at all, because we all felt much more optimistic about the Cubs at that point.

Okay, not all of us. I know some of you out there would be filing their death certificate even if they were in first place by six games with seven to go. The recent spurt of competent play has the Cubs in a tie for fourth and just a half-game behind the Pirates for third, plus they’re just 3.5 back in the Wild Card. While I maintain they dug themselves too deep a hole from which to climb out, they could conceivably find themselves in playoff contention by the break.

Justin Steele is coming off of a complete game that may have been the best start of his career, and he’s been very good over the last month. Another performance like we’ve seen from him of late should put a suddenly lively offense in position to pick up yet another win against a very dangerous team.

Nico Hoerner leads off at second, followed by Michael Busch at first and Seiya Suzuki in right. Ian Happ is in left, Chris Morel is the DH, Dansby Swanson is at short, and Miles Mastrobuoni is at third. Pete Crow-Armstrong handles center and Tomás Nido is the catcher.

They’ve got a tall task in righty Albert Suárez, who comes into the game sporting a 2.48 ERA with the sixth-lowest HR/9 mark (0.55) among 129 pitchers with at least 60 innings this season. Signed by the Rays as an international free agent out of Venezuela in 2006, making his stateside affiliated ball debut in 2008 and toiling in Tampa’s system through 2014. He’s been quite the journeyman since, spending time in the Angels org before joining the Giants and making his MLB debut in 2016.

He pitched in Triple-A for the Diamondbacks in 2018, then joined the NPB’s Yakult Swallows for three seasons before moving on to KBO’s Samsung Lions for two more years. Suárez signed a minor league deal with the Orioles and started the season in Triple-A, but has now been with the big club since mid-April. This will be his 12th start and 19th overall appearance, so his numbers can be viewed as somewhat reliable.

There’s still a little noise in there, particularly with the 3.56 FIP and 4.65 xFIP, much of which comes from him giving up a ton of contact in the air. He’s been able to avoid barrels despite a pedestrian 18.6% strikeout rate, a product of working the edges of the zone as well as any pitcher I’ve scouted so far. Suarez has a mid-90s four-seam he’ll throw over half the time that works up at the top of the zone, then he’s got a mid-80s cutter that lights up the glove-side edge along the middle third.

His changeup has been one of the best in baseball this season, generating six runs of value despite accounting for only 18% of his pitches. He keeps that pitch on the arm side with high frequency, busting righties on the hands and forcing lefties to reach a bit. Finally, he’s got a curve with 1-7 break that often ends up in the lower glove-side corner.

That ability to keep pitches out of hitters’ happy zones has made him successful this season, though it may open the door for a patient team to take advantage of him. Out of that same sample listed earlier, Suárez’s 11.9% called-strike rate is the lowest and his 22.5% called-plus-swinging rate is second-lowest. If the Cubs can remain disciplined and avoid swinging at those borderline pitches, which is easier said than done, they should be able to get over on this guy.

First pitch is once again at 5:35pm CT on MLB Network (out-of-market only), Marquee, and 670 The Score.

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