Maddon, Cubs trying to 'unearth' Soler with lineup switch


Maddon, Cubs trying to 'unearth' Soler with lineup switch

Jorge Soler checked off another big league "first" Saturday.

The 23-year-old slugger hit leadoff for the first time in his brief MLB career in Cubs manager Joe Maddon's attempt to get Soler going at the plate.

Standing at 6-foot-4 with a 215-pound frame, Soler looks more like a linebacker than a leadoff guy, but Maddon thinks this move could help get Soler back on track.

"I've been debating on this one," Maddon said before Saturday's game against the Brewers. "I've done it in the past with different guys, just to have them think differently.

"It's not about changing your mechanics or trying new things — it's just to think differently. And I'm all about when a hitter is not going as he can, the last thing you want to do is change up his mechanics. You want to change your mental mechanics first.

"So right now, he sees his name in the leadoff spot, he's got a different vibe about him, probably a little more carefree — I would think — about the day."

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Soler leads the National League with 35 strikeouts, having played in all 21 of the Cubs' games this season.

Since going 2-for-5 with a double and two runs in the Cubs' win over the Pirates on April 21 in Pittsburgh, Soler has been in a slump at the plate, hitting just .133 with a .424 OPS — and that includes a 2-for-4 game Friday.

In the last eight games, Soler is 4-for-30 and has seen his average fall from .327 to .259 on the season. He also has struck out 17 times in that stretch.

Soler has made 14 career starts in the No. 2 spot in the order, but is hitting just .250 with a .270 on-base percentage and .603 OPS in that slot. He has failed to hit a homer in 60 at-bats while batting second.

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Maddon thinks the switch can help put Soler at ease, and he wants the rookie to go up there with a different approach, worrying more about setting the table than cleaning it up.

"The whole job I want to get across from him is — you're out there to score runs," Maddon said. "Don't worry about home runs. Don't worry about hits. Go out there and score runs."

In order for Soler to lead off, Maddon had to bump Dexter Fowler down to the two-hole. Fowler has been doing his job this season as a tablesetter, with a .367 on-base percentage and 12 runs on the season.

Fowler is in the midst of a six-game hitting streak in which he's 10-for-21 (.476 average) with a 1.046 OPS.

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Maddon isn't concerned that a different spot in the order will affect the veteran centerfielder much.

"I told (Fowler) I just wanted to try to unearth the other guy," Maddon said. "I wasn't worried about Dexter; I think he's going well.

"This is more designed to Jorge specifically to see if we can get him to feel a little bit better about himself."

Willson Contreras' bat-flip game is already in midseason form

Willson Contreras' bat-flip game is already in midseason form

The MLB regular season is still 13 days away, but Willson Contreras is ready for the swings to count.

The Cubs catcher hit an absolute bomb of a homer Friday afternoon off White Sox pitcher Reynaldo Lopez, but it wasn't just a homer.

Contreras put an exclamation mark on the dinger (his third of the spring and the second this week) with an A+ bat flip:

I'm not sure what's more majestic: The 450-foot shot or the 45-foot bat-flip.

Either way, Contreras is ready for those 2018 NL MVP votes.

Cubs opposition research: It's an even year, so count on a Giants comeback


Cubs opposition research: It's an even year, so count on a Giants comeback

The expectations couldn't be any higher for the 2018 Chicago Cubs. 

It's 2016 all over again. The goal isn't just a trip to the playoffs or another NL pennant. It's World Series or bust for this group of North Siders.

With that, let's take a look at all of the teams that could stand in the way of the Cubs getting back to the Fall Classic:

San Francisco Giants

2017 record: 64-98, last place in NL West

Offseason additions: Andrew McCutchen, Evan Longoria, Austin Jackson, Gregor Blanco, Tony Watson, Julian Fernandez

Offseason departures: Michael Morse, Matt Cain, Matt Moore, Denard Span, Kyle Crick, Christian Arroyo

X-factor: Brandon Belt

The trades for Longoria and McCutchen are going to get all the attention, but the Giants are sort of acquiring Belt, too. 

Their sweet-swining lefty first baseman only appeared in 104 games in 2017, missing the last few weeks of the season with a bad concussion. When he was on the field, he led the team in both homers (18) and walks (66) despite just 451 plate appearances. 

Belt has turned into one of the most patient hitters in the game and if he is able to stay healthy for a full season, would slot in perfectly in the 2-hole ahead of McCutchen, Longoria and Buster Posey. 

Projected lineup

1. Joe Panik - 2B
2. Brandon Belt - 1B
3. Andrew McCutchen - RF
4. Buster Posey - C
5. Evan Longoria - 3B
6. Hunter Pence - LF
7. Brandon Crawford - SS
8. Austin Jackson - CF

Projected rotation

1. Madison Bumgarner
2. Johnny Cueto
3. Jeff Samardzija
4. Ty Blach
5. Chris Stratton


The Giants tied for the worst record in Major League Baseball in 2017, surprising many around the league. Absolutely nothing went right for the team, from a lack of power on the field (Belt missed a third of the season and still led the team in homers), injuries (Bumgarner only made 17 starts) and general ineffectiveness (Mark Melancon).

But the Giants are a team that excels in even years, though the Cubs may have broken that juju by knocking San Fran out of the NLDS in 2016.

Still, between the return to health of key players and some big moves that improved the lineup, this team is primed for a return to form.

Watson is a nice piece at the back end of the bullpen and bet on a rebound from Melancon, who was one of the best late-inning relievers in the game from 2013-16 (1.80 ERA, 0.91 WHIP, 147 saves).

Expect more out of the rotation with Bumgarner and Cueto a dynamic 1-2 punch. Cubs fans are familiar with what Samardzija can do if he gets on a role, too.

It seems crazy to pick the Giants to finish higher than the Diamondbacks, but they still have the same core of players from the championship years and have a much-improved roster.

Prediction: Second place in NL West, wild-card team

Complete opposition research

San Diego Padres
Colorado Rockies
Arizona Diamondbacks
San Franciso Giants