Why Joe Maddon still thinks Kyle Schwarber makes sense as a leadoff hitter

Why Joe Maddon still thinks Kyle Schwarber makes sense as a leadoff hitter

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. — Kyle Schwarber may take the first official at-bat of the 2018 Cubs season. 

When the Cubs take on the Giancarlo Stanton-less Marlins in Miami March 29, Schwarber may very well be the team's leadoff hitter.

Yes, even after that idea didn't pan out so well last year.

As manager Joe Maddon met with the media Tuesday afternoon at the Walt Disney World Dolphin Resort, he admitted he hasn't lined up a batting order for 2018 yet, but when asked about Schwarber, he said he wouldn't run from the idea of using the now-svelt slugger atop the lineup.

"He's probably arguably in the best shape of his life, so it starts there," Maddon said. "Regarding the leadoff thing — it was only failed in the sense that Kyle had a tough time last year. He could have hit 1-9 and still had a tough time last year. It just was not his year, although he rebounded nicely.

"I don't know, I haven't drawn a lot of conclusions with that. Obviously we still got to see what the team's going to look like in its entirety. Schwarber obviously could lead off, if he is hitting like Schwarber and he's accepting his walks and he's got his .250-plus batting average. His on-base percentage is going to be a hundred points over his batting average, I really believe that again.

"I definitely will consider [Schwaber leadoff] again, but I want to see who all the available candidates are first."

Schwarber hitting leadoff was a gigantic storyline entering 2017 and it didn't work out so well when the lefty slugger hit just .190 with a .693 OPS in 36 starts atop the order. 

He was moved lower in the order, but still wound up hitting just .211 with a .782 OPS overall, though he did manage 30 homers despite coming in shy of 500 plate appearances after a midseason stint in the minors.

The Cubs still haven't found a clear choice for the leadoff spot since Dexter Fowler left in free agency following the 2016 World Series championship and unless they make a trade, the 2018 leadoff guy(s) will come from the group already in place.

Among the choices, Schwarber provides maybe the best option, especially against right-handed pitching. He's patient, sees a lot of pitches, can give the team an immediate boost with a first-inning homer and can set the table for MVP candidates Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo immediately behind him.

Ian Happ could also fill that role in his sophomore campaign, though both players strike out a ton.

Maddon wouldn't commit to Schwarber playing more against left-handed pitching in 2018, but even if he sits, Albert Almora Jr. — who hammers southpaws — could be a nice fill-in guy.

Either way, the Cubs aren't stressing about this whole leadoff thing anywhere near as much as the fanbase is.

"It would be a luxury for us," Theo Epstein said. "You can have a really functional offense without a traditional leadoff guy. I think we demonstrated that last year — we scored over 800 runs, second most in the league behind Colorado, without much impact in the leadoff spot.

"I'd sign up for over 800 runs again and the second-most runs in the league. What shape it takes, I don't really care. We'd love to have a prototypical leadoff guy, but not at the expense of the core elements of the team.

"Right now, pitching is more important."

Bryzzo a winner regardless of sport

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Bryzzo a winner regardless of sport

Bryzzo can't be stopped.

Even if you change the sport.

The combination of Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo has become a household name around the country as the two Cubs stars have become a joint face of baseball.

The name "Bryzzo" breeds success off the diamond, too, as a horse sharing the same moniker is a champion.

Earlier this month, Bryzzo the horse won Churchill Downs in Louisville, Kentucky in only his second career race. 

Jason Loutsch — Bryzzo's owner and a native Ankeny, Iowa — is a big Cubs fan, but insists he had never heard the name "Bryzzo" before he merged the names of his two favorite players in September 2016 as the Cubs were making their march toward their first World Series championship in over a century:

"We have a tough time coming up with names," Loutsch said in an interview with Carrie Muskat of MLB.com. "We try to name them after family members or an event or people we like who are famous.

"I'm a diehard Chicago Cubs fan and we won the World Series, obviously, so I thought it would be great to name him after my two favorite Chicago Cubs — Anthony Rizzo and Kris Bryant. I took the Bryant and Rizzo and came up with Bryzzo."

Wait, so a guy who claims to be a diehard Cubs fan had never heard the term "Bryzzo" or seen anything about the fake Bryzzo Souvenir Co. in the eight-ish months leading up to the time he picked the same exact name for his horse?

#ThinkingFaceEmoji 

Eh, whatever.

Loutsch and the Albaugh Family Stable have dreams of winning the Kentucky Derby someday. Maybe Bryzzo can end another drought in a sport that doesn't consist of a ball.

Anthony Rizzo takes home another award

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Anthony Rizzo takes home another award

Anthony Rizzo has already built an impressive legacy that includes a Roberto Clemente Award.

The Cubs first baseman received another honor on Wednesday, this time from the MLB Players Association. Rizzo was named this year's recipient of the Marvin Miller Man of the Year Award for his work with The Anthony Rizzo Family Foundation.

Sammy Sosa was the last Cub to win the award,back in 1999.

There wasn't as much postseason success as last year for the Cubs, but the postseason awards are starting to pile up. In addition to Rizzo's humanitarian awards, Jason Heyward received a Gold Glove on Tuesday.