Cubs

Why Joe Maddon and The Geek Department think this Cubs lineup could be more explosive than last year’s team

Why Joe Maddon and The Geek Department think this Cubs lineup could be more explosive than last year’s team

MESA, Ariz. – The Geek Department has spoken, reaffirming Cubs manager Joe Maddon's belief that Kyle Schwarber should be the leadoff guy atop another monster lineup projected to score more runs than the 2016 World Series champions.

"I'm all about the geeks," Maddon said. "Everybody should have their own geek."

Before the Cubs even reported to Arizona for camp, Maddon assigned a project to the research-and-development wing inside Theo Epstein's front office, asking what the simulations looked like with Schwarber at leadoff and the pitcher hitting eighth in front of Jon Jay or Albert Almora Jr.      

"Really hot, really hot," Maddon said. "If that number's right, I'll take it."

Would that projection be north of 800 runs?

"I didn't get an actual overall number," Maddon said. "I got a per-game number. That's what I like."

Maddon sort of smirked when asked if the per-game average would be north of five: "I don't know. It's a good number." The Cubs led every National League team except for the Colorado Rockies with 808 runs scored last season. Pitcher Mike Montgomery batted eighth in Sunday's prime-time lineup against the Kansas City Royals at Sloan Park, where 2 through 7 the Cubs looked like an Opening Night cast: Kris Bryant, Anthony Rizzo, Ben Zobrist, Addison Russell, Willson Contreras and Jason Heyward.   

The Cubs are banking on a full season/good health with Schwarber, Heyward not being one of the worst hitters in the majors and continued growth from their young talent. Even with Dexter Fowler taking his you-go, we-go act to the St. Louis Cardinals, the internal forecast has the 2017 Cubs scoring more runs than last year's 103-win team.

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"With Schwarber hitting first, yeah," Maddon said. "I think that's accurate. I don't remember that number being on last year's lineup. They gave me a sheet with different scenarios. It was pretty heavy. 

"Dexter was awesome, obviously. But (it's) Schwarber with the power potential, the home runs coming out of that spot with the extra at-bats, the natural rebounding of Jason. You just think that Jason's going to be a better hitter, production-wise, than last year, (plus) some of the younger guys, like Willson as an example, in his second year in the big leagues. 

"I've been talking about bearing down on defense and pitching, because I think naturally the hitting's going to get better, based on these guys are good and they have more experience. 

"All those things indicate that if we set it up this way, we should have a pretty good offensive year, especially against a right-handed pitcher."

Schwarber might get the day off against tough lefties, which would push the pitcher back down to the ninth spot. But the Cubs aren't an NL West team that will regularly have to face a Clayton Kershaw or a Madison Bumgarner. And the facts on the ground are constantly changing.

"I talk to the guys upstairs: 'This is what I'm thinking. Tell me where I'm wrong,'" Maddon said. "Like I said a couple years ago when Schwarber finally came up, I thought of hitting Schwarber first there and Dexter second. But they insisted the other way around. They were right. 

"So, listen, I have no problem with that stuff. Believe me, that's the one thing I have learned: You can have all the great feelings in the world. It still might not be the right thing. Like a guy comes up to me and says: 'I have a good feeling about today.' Oh my God, I want to run. 

"How do you know? There are so many times I've come to the ballpark, felt like crap, and we'll play the best game of the year. That has no correlation. You can feel all you want. (But) they gave me some solid information. I'm open for all that stuff."

While "Bryzzo," an American League-style lineup and a franchise built around hitters drew more attention, the Cubs rolled up a plus-252 run differential last year with consistent pitching and the best defensive unit in the majors, meaning this could actually be a different dimension for the defending champs.

"Everybody talked about the offense," Maddon said. "We pitched and caught the ball so well that the differential spread based on that. It wasn't just purely beating people up offensively."

Cubs are reported to be 'deeply involved' in trade talks for Zach Britton

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USA TODAY

Cubs are reported to be 'deeply involved' in trade talks for Zach Britton

The Cubs and Orioles reliever Zach Britton are once again being linked to each other, according to Patrick Mooney of the Athletic. 

Despite the front office constantly denying any big moves coming before the July 31st deadline the Cubs continue to pop up in trade rumors. However, the Cubs interest in Britton from last year makes this one with the Orioles stick a bit more, and when taking a look at Britton's fit on the club, a deal involving the lefty-reliever makes too much sense not to be true. 

The Cubs did add reliever Jesse Chavez earlier this week, but Chavez profiles more as a swingman and less of the late-inning arm Britton has been over his eight-year career. The Cubs would be acquiring a lesser effective Britton than the one teams saw dominant in '15 &'16 when he saved a combined 134 games for the Orioles. 

However, his 2018 numbers are encouraging for a guy coming off a ruptured Achilles tendon with a 3.68 ERA with 13 strikeouts in 14.2 IP. And when you factor in the pedigree the Cubs would be adding to the back end of the bullpen on top of his expiring deal at the end of 2018, it would make the Cubs bullpen lethal in the postseason. 

There will be other suitors for Britton who could likely offer more in terms of prospects in return, but if the Cubs are serious about adding someone like Britton, they could always dip into their MLB roster and part with a Victor Caratini-type player. Infielder David Bote has also impressed with his surprise season, showing he can contribute in multiple roles. 

Jed Hoyer did say earlier this week the Cubs will be adding depth before the trade deadline, but the asking price for arguably the best available reliever remaining on the market could end up being too rich for the Cubs to stomach. But it clearly won't stop them from at least weighing all options. 

Anthony Rizzo is ready to be the leading man 

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USA TODAY

Anthony Rizzo is ready to be the leading man 

When discussing his unconventional lineup choices, Joe Maddon had this to say, "It's almost a backwards way of doing this right now that I'm finding fascinating.....So I'm just gonna let it play for just a little bit and see where it takes us."

And it is hard to blame Maddon for letting his experiment ride out longer.

Via our Chris Kamka, Rizzo has hit in the leadoff spot seven times this season. In those seven plate appearances he has a single, double, triple (July 21), home run, walk, hit by pitch and a groundout. Rizzo’s numbers as a leadoff hitter are staggering:

And it appears the Cubs agree.

After their 7-2 win over the St. Louis Cardinals on Saturday, Ben Zobrist joked that Rizzo is the “self proclaimed greatest leadoff hitter...”. And while on paper, having Zobrist bat fourth in the order and Rizzo lead off seems contradictory, the move has definitely energized the offense. Immediately following all the lineup shuffling, the Cubs reeled off four straight wins before the Cardinals 18-run, 18-hit explosion, but even in that game Rizzo did draw a base by HBP.

And sure enough, in Saturday’s game, there was Rizzo, dominating to the tune of three walks and a triple. There is no telling if Maddon will continue to keep him in the leadoff spot. The move was originally made to help Rizzo get his groove back, which if Saturday’s win was any indication, he has.

But with Jason Heyward having a great offensive season, Jesse Chavez looking good in his Cubs debut (two clean innings with one strikeout) and Baez continuing his MVP-like play, Cubs fans should be as optimistic as one certain fan at Wrigley Field.