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Apr 25, 2024 7:04 am

Justin Verlander, Astros aim to slow quick-starting Cubs

Verlander,

The Chicago Cubs teed off on the struggling Houston Astros in the first inning each of the past two nights.

The Cubs will try to continue causing early damage Thursday afternoon when they aim for a sweep of the visiting Astros in the finale of a three-game series.

In the Cubs’ 7-2 win on Tuesday, Cody Bellinger and Mike Tauchman combined for 798 feet of home runs in the first inning to put Houston in a 5-0 hole. Bellinger hit a two-run, 428-foot shot, and Tauchman ripped a three-run, 370-foot blast.

On Wednesday, Dansby Swanson hit a three-run shot to left 369 feet in the first as the Cubs took a 4-0 lead en route to a 4-3 win, handing the Astros their fourth straight loss.

Swanson’s blast went into the teeth of the wind on a frigid night.

“On a day like this, you know runs are going to be hard to come by, and we’ll take them however we can get them,” Swanson said. “Thankfully all we needed was the four.”

Chicago manager Craig Counsell said, “We’ve gotten three big swings early in the first two games of the series. I always think getting to that starter early before he settles in is a good thing to do.”

Said Houston manager Joe Espada, “I think at times, we get down early in the game and we’re trying to gain all the runs at once, in one inning, instead of more just one run at a time. We try to do a little bit too much.”

Getting early damage could be tougher for the Cubs on Thursday. With the temperature expected to be about 50 degrees at game time, Houston will send ace Justin Verlander (1-0, 3.00 ERA) to face the Cubs’ Javier Assad (2-0, 2.11) in a duel of right-handers.

Verlander prevailed in his first start of the season on Friday, a 5-3 road win over the Washington Nationals. It was the 258th career victory for the 41-year-old veteran, who started the season on the injured list due to right shoulder inflammation.

Verlander allowed two runs over six innings in a win at Washington last Friday in his only start of the season, scattering four hits while striking out four. He did not issue a walk.

“I was pleasantly surprised, honestly,” he said. “I kind of tried to cram spring training into three starts, and my control wasn’t quite what I would have liked.”

Over his 19-year major league career, Verlander has thrown fewer innings against the Cubs than against any other team.

He has made two career starts against the Cubs, going 2-0 with a 1.98 ERA. Both starts came in Chicago, in 2006 and 2012.

Assad is off to a fine start in 2024. The 26-year-old, in his third year with the Cubs, has allowed just 14 hits and five runs over 21 1/3 innings this season. He has walked eight ad fanned 21.

Assad has never faced the Astros.

The Cubs have been playing steady baseball all season. Chicago has had only a pair of two-game losing streaks all year, nothing longer, and has won eight of its past 11 games.

The Astros are in last place in the American League West, 11 games under .500. They have dropped 11 of their past 14 games.

“Despite how we started, it’s a long journey,” Espada said.

–Field Level Media

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