This conventional idea of a leadoff hitter is an endangered species, a rare commodity like the young, top-of-the-rotation starter the Cubs will prioritize at the July 31 trade deadline.
“You never rule out anything,” general manager Jed Hoyer said. “If it makes us better, then we’ll talk about doing it. But pitching’s the priority, now and this winter. We know that’s organizationally where we need to go.”
Plus, the Cubs already have the greatest leadoff hitter of all-time. Just ask Anthony Rizzo, who’s clearly enjoying an experiment that manager Joe Maddon doesn’t plan to end anytime soon.
Rizzo’s leadoff streak of getting on base in seven straight games — home run, home run, walk, single, double, single, home run — ended Wednesday afternoon when he flied out to right field against Miguel Diaz during a 3-2 loss to the San Diego Padres at Wrigley Field. No other Cub since 1946 had done that except for Richie Ashburn near the end of his Hall of Fame career in 1960.
“Honestly, I’m just keeping an open mind,” Maddon said. “I did not have a set number of days to do it. Just watch it and let it play out. Just see where it goes eventually.
“A lot of it’s dependent upon other guys surfacing. If somebody all of a sudden gets hot – and you think you can do something differently – then I might. But otherwise, I’m just going to leave it alone for a bit.”
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In anointing Kyle Schwarber as his leadoff guy in spring training, Maddon pointed to the Geek Department projections and the intimidation factor in seeing a hitter who can do damage with the first pitch. Schwarber — who’s hitting .174 and doesn’t have the same presence that made him a World Series legend — didn’t last in that role.
But the game is trending away from batting average and stolen bases. There really aren’t many prototypical leadoff talents like Lou Brock and Tim Raines available. That’s why the St. Louis Cardinals gave Dexter Fowler a five-year, $82.5 million contract.
Rizzo is a good leadoff hitter because he is a good hitter. This snapped a career-high 14-game hitting streak, and he had already been heating up long before Maddon’s desperation move, posting a .445 on-base percentage in his previous 39 games since May 7.
“I’ve always thought that there are certain guys that have the leadoff mentality,” Maddon said. “Some guys just don’t like to be the first guy up there. They want to see other guys hit first. They want that information coming back to the dugout.
“It’s just a mindset. It’s somebody that obviously has the tools, meaning they probably see some pitches. They get on base a lot. They’re willing to accept their walks. And it’s nice when they also have some power, too. But I think, more than anything, it’s mindset. And having said that, Anthony likes to do this.”