Friday, June 2, 2023
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MLB Preview: Chicago Cubs (19-23) at Houston Astros (23-19)


HOUSTON, WE HAVE LIFTOFF: The Chicago Cubs last night dropped game one of the three-game set against the 2022 World Series champion Houston Astros in the second leg of a nine-game, three-city, 10-day road trip (1-3) … Trey Mancini, in his first game back in Houston since the 2022 World Series win, was presented with his Championship ring pregame and reached base twice, going 1-for-3 with a walk and a run scored.

Chicago has lost a season-high-tying three games in a row for the fifth time this season … they are looking to avoid dropping four in a row for the first time since Aug. 27-30 of last season.

Following this three-game series at Houston, the team heads to Philadelphia for three more (starting Friday), with an off-day in between the two sets.

The Cubs went 10-3 in 13 games from April 4-19, but have gone 8-16 in 24 contests starting April 20 … Chicago has lost three-straight road series, with the last series victory coming April 17-19 at Oakland.

Today is the 17th game (5-12) of a stretch that sees the team on the road for 16 of 22 contests through May 21.

MOREL GOES FOR MORE: Christopher Morel hit his fourth home run of the season last night, a game-tying three-run shot in the fourth inning, in his sixth game … all four of his homers have gone for 400-plus feet (401, 422, 429, 461) … he is the first Cub with four home runs through his first six games of the season since Alfonso Soriano in 2009 (credit: ESPN Stats) … in fact, only three Cubs have had more homers through the first six games of the season: Gabby Hartnett in 1925 (5 HR), Randy Jackson in 1955 (5 HR) and Billy Williams in 1964 (5 HR).

The record for the most home runs through the first seven games of a season with the Cubs is six, when Gabby Hartnett did it in 1925.

The last Cubs hitters to have five home runs through the first seven games? … Randy Jackson (1955), BIlly Williams (1964) and Dave Kingman (1980).

FACING OFF AGAINST THE CHAMPS: Chicago in consecutive series will play three games each against the reigning A.L. and N.L. Pennant winners, the Astros and the Phillies … the only previous time the Cubs have played the defending pennant winners from both leagues within a 10-game span was in 2006, playing the 2005 A.L. Pennant winning White Sox June 30-July 2 at Wrigley Field then travelling to Houston to play the Astros, the 2005 N.L. Pennant winners, July 3-5 … the team went 2-4 in those games.

LIGHTING UP THE SCOREBOARD: The Cubs have scored at least one run in each of their first 41 games in 2023, just the third time in the expansion era (since 1961) the team has gotten on the board in each of its first 41 contests … the longest season-opening streaks in this span: 47 G in 1995 and 43 G in 2020.

Chicago is one of four teams in the majors this season to have scored at least one run in every game played thus far (also the Diamondbacks, Angels and Blue Jays).

Below is a look at how each Cubs team stacks up through the first 41 games of their season-opening streaks with at least one run scored:

Year Record Win % R RA
2023 19-21 .463 197 170
2020 23-18 .561 189 180
1995 23-18 .561 189 172

LUCKY NUMBER 7: The Cubs scored eight runs in the seventh inning or later in the three-games against Minnesota this weekend, including five runs on Friday to earn the come-from-behind win over the Twins … Chicago has scored 71 runs in the seventh inning or later, sixth-most in the league … the team’s .361 OBP paces the majors and the .272 batting average (126-for-464) in the last third of the game ranks second.

Chicago’s hurlers have pitched to a .234 opponent batting average, good for fourth-best in the N.L.

Among hitters in the 7-9 spots in the batting order, Cubs rank second in the majors in average (.269), on-base percentage (.331) and slugging percentage (.437), tied for second in home runs (19) and have the sixth-lowest strikeout percentage (22.1%).

WHEN IT’S RIGHT, IT’S RIGHT: Ian Happ has posted a .481 on-base percentage against right-handed pitching this season, the best mark in the majors.

Happ has hit .355 (38-for-107) against right-handed pitching, the second-highest mark in the game … Arraez leads with a .390 average.
SOMETHING OF QUALITY: Cubs pitchers have recorded 20 quality starts this season, tied for the second-most in the majors (Seattle, Pittsburgh and Minnesota lead with 21).

The Cubs last season recorded their 20th quality start in their 95th game of the season, July 24 at Philadelphia.

Marcus Stroman and Justin Steele both have seven quality starts, tied for the league lead.

OPPORTUNITY KNOCKS: Chicago has reached via walk, hit or HBP 540 times this season, fourth-most among all clubs, trailing only Tampa Bay (563), St. Louis (544) and Boston (544) … the Cubs lead the majors with 311 left on base.

Chicago’s 428 plate appearances with RISP are the second-most in the N.L. and sixth in the majors (Boston leads, 462) … in its last 24 games since April 22 the Cubs have hit .227 (46-for-203) with RISP.

Starting Pitcher – #35 LHP Justin Steele (6-0, 1.82)
Last Time Out
Justin improved to 6-0 May 10 vs. St. Louis, allowing three runs on seven hits with three strikeouts in 6.0 innings … allowed more than two earned runs for the first time since July 22, 2022, spanning 14 starts … the run was the longest active streak in the major leagues and was tied for the second-longest in Cubs franchise history (since 1901), trailing Jack Taylor’s 15-game stretch from June 13-Aug. 14, 1902 … has completed at least 6.0 innings in seven of his eight starts in 2023 … has a 2.39 ERA (27 ER/101.2 IP) at Wrigley Field since the start of the 2022 season.

Date Opp. Result IP H R ER BB SO PC-S Left
5/10 STL W, 10-4 6.0 7 3 3 3 3 91-57 9-3
2023 Splits and Season Notes

Home 4-0 1.48 5 5 30.1 23 5 5 10 23
Road 2-0 2.37 3 3 19.0 14 7 5 4 16
AVG vs. LHB: .238 (10-for-42) / AVG vs. RHB: .206 (27-for-131)

Justin is making his ninth start of the 2023 season today, fourth on the road … has posted a 1.47 ERA (14 ER/86.0 IP) since July 22, 2022, the lowest ERA in the majors during the run (min. 15 GS) … his 1.82 ERA in 2023 is the second-lowest in the N.L. and fourth-lowest in the majors among qualified pitchers, while his .214 opponent average (37-for-173) is the 10th-lowest in the N.L. … is one of three N.L. pitchers with at least six wins and the only one to have six wins and zero losses … opposing batters are hitting .153 (8-for-59) with 20 strikeouts off his slider.

Allowed two or fewer earned runs in 14-straight starts from July 22, 2022- May 5, 2023, tied for the second-longest stretch in Cubs franchise history (since 1901), behind Jack Taylor’s streak of 15 games June 13-Aug. 14, 1902 (tied with Jake Arrieta, 14 G, 7/30/15-4/4/16).

Went 1-1 with a 2.63 ERA (4 ER/13.2 IP) with 13 strikeouts in four Cactus League starts in 2023 … started and tossed the first 2.0 innings of the Cubs combined no-hitter, March 3 at San Diego.


TONIGHT’S GAME: Winners of six of their last seven, the Astros will go for a sweep of the Cubs tonight in the finale of their three-game series in Houston…the Astros will be behind rookie RHP J.P. France, who’s making just his third Major League start tonight, opposite the veteran LHP Drew Smyly and the Cubs.

SWEEPSTAKES: If the Astros complete the sweep of this series tonight it would be their second sweep of the season, also a three-game series in Atlanta from April 21-23…a win would also give the Astros their first sweep of the Cubs since taking a three-game series in Houston from May 21-23, 2012.

VIVE LA FRANCE!: RHP J.P. France has been incredible in his first two Major League starts, combing to allow just one earned run in 11.2 innings for a 0.77 ERA…France is just the fourth pitcher in club history to work 5.0-plus innings, allowing one-or-fewer runs in each of his first two Major League starts… the others to do so: LHP Dallas Keuchel (2012), LHP Carlos Hernández (2001) and RHP Manny Hernández (1986).

IT’S BEEN AWHILE: The Astros and Cubs, who spent 19 seasons (1994-2012) together in the NL Central, have only played each other in 11 games since the Astros moved to the AL in 2013, with Houston going 6-5 in those games…the two teams last saw each other in 2019 in a three-game series in Houston from May 27-29 (Astros won two of three).

LAST NIGHT’S WIN: The Astros offense pounded out nine hits, including a season-high six doubles, en route to a 7-3 victory over the Cubs last night…Houston did their damage in a four-run 4th inning that included four doubles, one each by DH Yordan Alvarez, RF Kyle Tucker, LF Corey Julks and CF Chas McCormick…RHP Cristian Javier (1ER/6IP) picked up the victory after allowing just two hits and two walks in his start.

ON THE BUMP: The Astros have posted the lowest team ERA (3.30) in the Majors, percentage points lower than the second-place Rays (3.30)…the Astros also lead the Majors in strikeouts per 9.0 (9.83) and strikeout to walk ratio (3.52) and have allowed the second-fewest runs (154) in the Majors.

BULLPEN WEAPONS: RHP Phil Maton and RHP Bryan Abreu have been outstanding this season…Maton has allowed just nine hits and two runs in his first 18 appearances (21 IP) for a 0.86 ERA…opponents are hitting just .127 (9×71) against him, including a .125 (5×40) average by left- handers and a .129 (4×31) average by righties…meanwhile, Abreu has tallied 34 strikeouts in his 20.1 IP while allowing just three earned runs for a 1.33 ERA, and also posting a .145 opponent average (10×63).

LATE ATTACK: The Astros offense has come alive late in games this season, producing 75 runs in the 7th inning or later, which ranks second in the AL trailing the Rangers (78)…the Astros top inning, in terms of runs scored this season, has been the 7th (31 runs), which included the Astros two-run 7th inning last night.

TRAFFIC:LF Yordan Alvarez has opened his season by reaching base safely in all 36 of his games, which is the franchise record for a start-of-season streak…he also is riding a career-long 13-game hitting streak…a few notes on his streaks below:

  • the last Major Leaguer with a longer start-of-season streak was OF Odúbel Herrera (41g) for the 2018 Phillies.
  • Alvarez’s on-base streak is the longest in the Majors this season, topping a 30-game streak by SS Xander Bogaerts.
  • going back to last season, Alvarez has reached base safely in a career-long 40 straight games, which is the seventh longest on-base streak in Astros franchise history…the last Astro to post a longer streak was 3B Alex Bregman, who had a 41-game run spanning parts of the 2019-20 seasons.
  • prior to Alvarez’s current hitting streak, his career-long streak was 10 games, accomplished from Sept. 9-21, 2022.
  • Alvarez is hitting .354 (17×48) with eight runs, five doubles, three homers, five walks and 12 RBI during his 13-game streak.

STUFF OF NIGHTMARES: LF Yordan Alvarez has been at his best in the big moments in his career, especially this season…he’s hitting .500 (15×30) with RISP, .588 (10×17) with RISP and two outs, .667 (4×6) with the bases loaded, and .391 (9×23) in close and late situations…Baseball-Reference has a leverage metric, which lists Alvarez as hitting .539 (14×26) with five homers, 31 RBI and a 1.908 OPS in high leverage situations.

AMERICAN LEAGUE RANKINGS: Among AL players, LF Yordan Alvarez ranks second in RBI (39), third in OPS (.973), fifth in SLG (.573) and tied for ninth in homers (9)…3B Alex Bregman ranks tied for third in walks (26) and second in plate apps. per strikeout (10.94)…additionally, 2B Mauricio Dubón ranks sev- enth in batting average (.309) and tied for ninth in runs (27).

ON THE MEND: 2B Jose Altuve had his rehab assignment transferred to Double A Corpus Christi yesterday, and went 0x5 while playing the entire game for the Hooks last night… across two levels, Altuve has played in four games on his injury rehab assignment, going 1×18 at the dish…the Astros All-Star second baseman has missed the entire season after being hit by a pitch during the WBC and suffering a fractured right thumb.

LAST START – 5/12 AT CWS: allowed 1 run on 3 hits with 1 walk and 3 strikeouts in 6.2 innings…became the fourth pitcher in club history to work 5.0-plus innings, allowing 1-or-fewer runs in each of his first two Major League starts…the others to do so: LHP Dallas Keuchel (2012), LHP Carlos Hernández (2001) and RHP Manny Hernández.

THE FIRST FRANCE: rookie right-hander made his Major League debut in his start on 5/6 at Seattle…threw 5 scoreless innings and struck out 5 batters while allowing 3 hits and 1 walk…It was his 100th career appearance as a professional.

  • struck out 2022 American League Rookie of the Year and All-Star Julio Rodríguez for his 1st career strikeout, which was the 1st batter he faced.

ABOUT FRANCE: was selected in the 14th round by the Astros in the 2018 draft out of Mississippi State…the 2023 season is his sixth in the Astros system.

  • pitched for three years at Tulane, missed his sophomore season due to injury, before he transferred to Mississippi State…posted a 3.77 ERA in 25 appearances (59.2IP/2GS) as a grad transfer…he played a crucial part in the Bulldogs clinching an NCAA Super Regional berth by throwing 7.0 innings of two-run ball vs. Oklahoma in the Tallahassee Regional.

FRANCE’S 2023 MILB SEASON: prior to being recalled, he was the Triple A Sugar Land Space Cowboys best pitcher this season, going 2-1 with a 2.33 ERA (5ER/19.1IP) in 5 games (3 starts)…worked between the rotation and bullpen in the Space Cowboys piggyback starter role.

  • had 26 strikeouts in 19.1 innings, while allowing just 9 hits on the season…posted a .136 (9×66) opponent average and a 1.03 WHIP.
  • did not allow a home run this season in the homer-friendly Pacific Coast League… has not allowed a homer since Aug. 13, 2022 at ELP…since that date, has made 17 total appearances (36IP) at the Triple A level.
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