Cubs, Nationals set lineups for NLDS Game 1


Cubs, Nationals set lineups for NLDS Game 1

The Cubs released Joe Maddon's lineup for Game 1 of the National League Division Series against the Washington Nationals Friday night.

The 25-man roster was released earlier on Friday and here's how the Cubs will line up behind Kyle Hendricks as they get set for a showdown with Stephen Strasburg:

1. Ben Zobrist - RF
2. Kris Bryant - 3B
3. Anthony Rizzo - 1B
4. Willson Contreras - C
5. Kyle Schwarber - LF
6. Addison Russell - SS
7. Jason Heyward - CF
8. Javy Baez - 2B
9. Kyle Hendricks - P

Of course, the Bryant-Rizzo-Contreras heart of the order was easy to predict. But the rest of the lineup was up for grabs and it makes sense for Maddon to roll with Russell-Baez manning the middle of the infield.

Heyward playing center is not something Cubs fans have seen much of this season, as he's started just 12 games there and played 89.1 innings at the most demanding outfield postion.

But his presence in center allows the Cubs to get Zobrist in the leadoff spot. Zobrist said he feels the best he's felt all year physically and the reigning World Series MVP is aiming to again make an impact in October.

Schwarber has made it an easy choice to insert him into the lineup, hitting .288 with a .954 OPS, 6 homers and 11 RBI in September. He didn't start or play much during some pivotal games against the Brewers or Cardinals down the stretch, but Schwarber gets his chance now to build on his "Mr. October" legacy.

Here's how Dusty Baker will line the Nationals up against Hendricks:

1. Trea Turner - SS
2. Bryce Harper - RF
3. Anthony Rendon - 3B
4. Daniel Murphy - 2B
5. Ryan Zimmerman - 1B
6. Jayson Werth - LF
7. Matt Wieters - C
8. Michael A. Taylor - CF
9. Stephen Strasburg - P

It appears Baker has realized the error of his ways and has Rendon hitting in the first inning. The NL MVP candidate (.301 average, .937 OPS) spent most of the year hitting lower in the lineup, spending 73 games in the 6-hole and 30 games hitting fifth. He made just nine starts in the No. 2 spot, 15 starts in the 3-hole and 14 starts hitting cleanup.

That first inning for Hendricks will be no picnic with Turner, Harper and Rendon and if anybody gets on, you're pitching to noted Cub Killer Murphy with a runner on base.

The puzzling move here is Baker and the Nationals' decision to go with Werth in the starting lineup. The grizzled veteran is an emotional leader for this team, but he hit just .223 with a .691 OPS against right-handed pitching in 2017, with only 15 extra-base hits in 206 at-bats. 

Adam Lind, meanwhile, has drawn a lot of starts against right-handed pitching for Washington this season and for good reason — he hit .303 with an .898 OPS against righties, crushing 14 homers and 52 RBI in only 238 at-bats.

Hendricks is also tough on righties, holding them to a .639 OPS compared to a .706 mark against lefties.

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