Cubs

Cubs give sneak preview of Game 1 lineup as playoff picture comes into focus

Cubs give sneak preview of Game 1 lineup as playoff picture comes into focus

CINCINNATI – Joe Maddon couldn’t maintain a poker face and hide his smirk when asked if there’s a very good chance that this will be the Game 1 playoff lineup for the Cubs.

“There’s a shot,” Maddon said Saturday afternoon at Great American Ball Park as reporters started laughing. “I’m not a cloak-and-dagger guy.”

Reading the manager’s body language, how the Cubs aligned against the Cincinnati Reds will likely be the group that runs out to thunderous cheers on Oct. 7 at Wrigley Field and faces the National League’s wild-card winner:

1. Dexter Fowler, CF

2. Kris Bryant, LF

3. Anthony Rizzo, 1B

4. Ben Zobrist, 2B

5. Addison Russell, SS

6. Jason Heyward, RF

7. Javier Baez, 3B

8. David Ross, C

9. Jon Lester, P

• The NL playoff picture is coming into focus, with the New York Mets clinching a wild-card spot and home-field advantage while the San Francisco Giants stayed one game ahead of the St. Louis Cardinals. Beat the Los Angeles Dodgers on Sunday at AT&T Park and the even-year Giants are in the playoffs. San Francisco’s worst-case scenario is a Game 163 on Monday at Busch Stadium.

The Cubs upgraded their lineup after getting exposed during the NL Championship Series last October, investing more than $250 million in Fowler, Zobrist and Heyward and seeing tremendous year-over-year improvements from young All-Stars like Bryant, Rizzo and Russell. 

If the Cubs meet the Mets again, they won’t have to face Matt Harvey, Jacob deGrom or Steven Matz, who’ve all undergone season-ending surgeries, perhaps paying the price for last year’s NL pennant.

“It’s an entirely different look for them right now,” Maddon said. “They’re using a lot of young guys right now that are really (working) for them. But any team that’s going to make it in there – the pitching’s going to be pretty good, regardless.

“They were extremely, incredibly hot when we saw them. Their command last year – with the weather conditions on top of it – I was baffled by it, by how well that they threw and what kind of command that they had in really extreme conditions in New York. So you got to give a lot of credit.”

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• Jorge Soler didn’t look comfortable hitting in ice-cold weather – who does? – but he’s a physical presence who made his mark in last year’s playoffs. Two MRIs on his right side have come back clean, yet he’s only felt good enough to have four at-bats within the last two weeks.

Soler took batting practice before Saturday’s 7-4 loss to the Reds and could make an appearance in Game 162. All this makes him an X-factor after he crushed St. Louis pitching last October, setting a major-league record by getting on base in his first nine career postseason plate appearances.

“The lineup presents differently with him in it,” Maddon said. “He’s definitely a force. He’s absolutely an offensive force. You play him for seven innings, grab a lead and get him out on defense. That’s the optimal situation.”

What Cubs lineup could look like in 2020 if Kris Bryant leads off

What Cubs lineup could look like in 2020 if Kris Bryant leads off

Kris Bryant told reporters Wednesday he's offered to leadoff for the Cubs this season to manager David Ross. And while nothing is set in stone, the 2016 NL MVP is one of the Cubs’ best options for the role.

Bryant isn’t a prototypical leadoff guy but it’s not like we’re discussing a cleanup man moving to the No. 1 spot in the lineup. Yes, he has power, but he’s also an on-base machine (career .385 OBP) who accepts his walks (career 11.9 percent walk rate).

Considering Bryant’s plate discipline, opponents will either have to pitch to him or run the risk of walking him ahead of Anthony Rizzo, Javier Báez, Kyle Schwarber and Willson Contreras. Bryant leading off will give those guys more RBI opportunities. He’s also one of the Cubs’ best baserunners, and his ability to take an extra base benefits those hitting behind him.

It’s important to note Bryant wouldn’t change his approach in the top spot — his power won't just disappear. He has a career .502 OBP with the bases empty and could put the Cubs ahead right away with a long ball or put them in business with an extra-base hit.

Bryant will be himself no matter where he hits: an elite on-base guy who almost always puts together a quality at-bat. He’s as good a leadoff candidate as any on the Cubs (no disrespect meant to Anthony Rizzo, aka the “Greatest Leadoff Hitter Of All-Time”).

If Bryant leads off, here's what standard lineups could look like, both against righties and lefties:

Versus RHP

1. (R) Kris Bryant (3B)
2. (L) Anthony Rizzo (1B)
3. (R) Javier Báez (SS)
4. (L) Kyle Schwarber (LF)
5. (R) Willson Contreras (C)
6. (L) Jason Heyward (RF)
7. (R) David Bote
8. Pitcher
9. (S) Ian Happ (CF)

Former Cubs manager Joe Maddon liked to alternate lefties and righties in his lineup. With MLB’s new three-batter minimum rule for relievers, I stuck to that mentality to create a late-inning advantage for the Cubs.

Schwarber-Báez-Rizzo looks lethal and is somewhat interchangeable. Rizzo recently said he prefers hitting third or fourth but will hit where Ross wants him. Ross suggested Wednesday Rizzo will hit behind Bryant; it looks unorthodox but Ross can always adjust it. 

Rizzo has fared well hitting second and hitting him there keeps him and Bryant back-to-back.

Rizzo hitting second (237 plate appearances): .300/.401/.515, 153 wRC+.

I like Báez getting RBI chances behind Bryzzo, the Cubs’ two best on-base guys. And, he mashes in the three hole:

Báez career hitting third (118 plate appearances): .366/.398/.571, 161 wRC+ 

Similarly, Schwarber has been more successful hitting cleanup than any other spot:

Schwarber career hitting fourth (68 plate appearances): .393/.441/.787, 211 wRC+

Those aren't the biggest sample sizes, but the numbers are eye-popping. Contreras and Heyward hitting fifth and sixth brings us back to a more traditional Cubs lineup. The second base competition is wide-open, but I'll give Bote a slight edge after he hit .274 with a .425 OBP post-All-Star break last season.

Bote will also play some third, which is when we'll see Daniel Descalso and Jason Kipnis (if he makes the roster) at second.

RELATED: Cubs roster projection 1.0: Bullpen, second base competitions are wide open

From there, I like a pitcher hitting eighth and Happ hitting ninth as a second leadoff guy. He has a good eye for the strike zone and his ability to get on base will give the top of the order more RBI chances.

Now, for the lineup against lefty starting pitchers:

1. (R) Kris Bryant (3B)
2. (L) Anthony Rizzo (1B)
3. (R) Javier Báez (SS)
4. (L) Kyle Schwarber (LF)
5. (R) Willson Contreras (C)
6. (L) Jason Heyward OR (R) Steven Souza Jr. (RF)
7. (R) Albert Almora Jr. (CF)
8. Pitcher
9. (R) David Bote (2B)

Ross believes in a structured lineup, so this looks pretty similar to the previous order. Heyward isn’t going to sit against every lefty starter, but when he does Souza’s power bat will fit in nicely in the sixth spot.

In this scenario, Hoerner is in Triple-A and Bote is the starting second baseman against lefties. Where Bote hits is contingent on Almora. I’d put Bote ninth when Almora is in the lineup because the former is more of an on-base threat. Almora’s contact-oriented approach could help move ahead any baserunners ahead of him. The same can be said about Bote, but I like the idea of him getting on base for the top of the order.

Happ, a switch-hitter, will also start against righties and I can see him hitting sixth, seventh or ninth. A lot of this hinges on how he, Almora and Bote are performing at the plate. Each will get their at-bats, but the Cubs need one to emerge as a consistent contributor.

Do these groupings look unfamiliar? Sure, but Bryant leading off will put us in new waters. Again, nothing is set in stone, and the Cubs have a ton of lineup combinations for this season. Seeing Bryant atop the order sure looks like an enticing possibility, however.

Kris Bryant to get a shot as Cubs leadoff hitter

Kris Bryant to get a shot as Cubs leadoff hitter

The leadoff spot has been in flux for the Cubs since Dexter Fowler left after the 2016 season. A new chapter in that role could soon be coming.

According to multiple reports, Kris Bryant talked about leading off for the Cubs in a meeting with new manager David Ross and it sounds like he will get a chance to do just that.


The Cubs have been creative with the leadoff spot without the lack of a traditional leadoff hitter on the roster. Anthony Rizzo even has 57 games in the leadoff spot in his career.

Bryant has had seven starts at the top of the order. He hit .321/.387/.464 in those games.


The Cubs' own Twitter account has made it semi-official by poking fun at Bryant as a leadoff hitter.


What this would do to the rest of the Cubs' lineup is going to be interesting. Bryant primarily batted second or third last year. Putting him at leadoff could separate him from Rizzo and Javy Baez in the middle of the lineup. Ross could also continue to change things up and put Baez or Rizzo second to keep the team's best three hitters back-to-back-to-back in the order.

Ross hasn't even managed a spring training game yet, but this could be his first big change. With the first spring training game coming up on Saturday, we should get a clue as to how Ross plans to send the team out. Suddenly the batting order is something to keep an eye on.

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