Cubs

The Cubs should make Kris Bryant their full-time leadoff hitter

The Cubs should make Kris Bryant their full-time leadoff hitter

Here's a hot take for you: Kris Bryant should be the Cubs' everyday leadoff man.

It might seem too "out there," even for Joe Maddon. And it certainly wouldn't be a conventional choice.

But maybe — just maybe — it would be the best thing for this Cubs roster. 

Since Dexter Fowler left, the Cubs have had a revolving door atop their batting order — ranging from Kyle Schwarber to Jon Jay to Ian Happ to Ben Zobrist to Albert Almora Jr. to Daniel Murphy. And we can't forget the Greatest Leadoff Hitter of All-Time: Anthony Rizzo.

After tabbing Schwarber and Happ as "the guy" the last two springs, respectively, Maddon and the Cubs have decided not to name anybody the main leadoff hitter for 2019 and instead plan to play matchups, with Zobrist seeing a lot of time against right-handed pitchers and Almora in there against lefties.

That approach is totally fine — the Cubs did the same thing last year and wound up leading the National League in average, on-base percentage and wRC (weighted runs created) out of the leadoff spot. 

But Cubs players have also been vocal about the desire for a bit more stable lineups and in order for that to happen, it has to start at the top.

Maddon and Co. are going the way of a platoon at leadoff because they have nobody on the roster they feel can fill the role every day, setting the table for the heart of the order (Bryant, Rizzo and Javy Baez) consistently.

But what if they simply move that heart of the order up a spot?

Hitting Bryant-Rizzo-Baez 1-2-3 would ensure the Cubs' three best hitters would bat in the first inning of every game and come up to the plate more times than any other hitter in the Cubs lineup. Imagine being an opposing starting pitcher and you're just trying to get a feel for what's working on a given day, trying to get settled in and instead you have to go up against the 2016 NL MVP, a perennial MVP candidate and the 2018 NL MVP runner-up back-to-back-to-back.

Plus, hitting Bryant first forces the opposition to either give him a good pitch to hit or risk walking him and putting a runner on base with nobody out in front of the Cubs top two RBI guys. Bryant has a career .542 slugging percentage with the bases empty, which can help stake the Cubs to an early lead in games either via homer or an extra-base hit that immediately puts a runner in scoring position with nobody out. 

All told, Bryant is the Cubs' top on-base guy and also one of the team's best baserunners — two hugely important skills to capably fill the leadoff role. 

Now, the leadoff guy doesn't only come to the plate with nobody out and nobody on. They're really only "leading off" once a game. 

So beyond the first inning, there are ways the Cubs can take advantage of this lineup maneuvering. 

For starters, they can hit the pitcher eighth, as Maddon is prone to doing anyways. The 9-hole could be a great spot for guys like Almora or Bote or Descalso, depending on the matchup. That would place an extra hitter in front of Bryant so he's not always immediately following the pitcher's spot.

Bryant is the Cubs' best all-around hitter, but he actually struggles with runners in scoring position.

During his rookie season of 2015, he hit .292 with a .906 OPS with runners in scoring position.

From the start of 2016 on, Bryant has hit only .257 with a .455 slugging percentage with runners in scoring position, never posting a season batting average higher than .273 in such situations (2018). Compare that to Rizzo and Baez, who hit .297 and .278, respectively, with runners in scoring position a year ago.

This isn't a huge deal, obviously, as Bryant still puts up amazing numbers (when he's not hurt). 

It also wouldn't be a huge jump for Bryant to move from the No. 2 spot (where he normally hits) to leadoff because it'd only be a slight drop-off in RBI opportunities. Last season, the Cubs leadoff hitters came up to the plate 151 times with runners in scoring position compared to 162 such instances for the No. 2 hitters. (Incidentally, both ranked at the bottom in the 2018 Cubs lineup in terms of sheer RBI opportunities.)

Would Bryant be OK moving up to the leadoff spot? It probably wouldn't be a tough sell, as he led off some in college and has always been fine with moving around the diamond defensively. 

He also thrives with a "pass the baton" mentality at the plate and has talked about how he feels best when he's simply trying to not make outs and keep the line moving for the next guy. That's the exact mindset a leadoff hitter should have.

So why not Rizzo as the full-time leadoff guy? He checks a lot of the same boxes we rattled off here for Bryant.

The simple answer to that is the handedness of the Cubs' top hitters. Going Bryant-Rizzo-Baez means righty-lefty-righty — which Maddon and Co. like, as it makes it harder to match up against (especially in the latter innings). 

A healthy Bryant returning to the Cubs lineup is going to be a huge boost no matter where he hits. But maybe he could help the team most hitting leadoff.

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Looking back on Rick Monday's flag-saving incident in 1976

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USA TODAY

Looking back on Rick Monday's flag-saving incident in 1976

"I would rather be remembered as someone who stood up and did something about something I felt strongly about, than as someone who just stood there and watched the parade go by."

When you least expect it, life can come at you pretty quickly. The way Rick Monday reacted 43 years ago in a Cubs uniform is still worth remembering.

The Cubs were playing at Dodger Stadium on April 25, 1976. Monday was in his fifth season with the Cubs and playing in center field. Steve Stone was the starting pitcher and in the bottom of the fourth inning, Monday heard something going on around him. Two fans ran onto the field and then past Cubs left fielder Jose Cardinal.

"Is it because they have a bet with somebody?" Monday said. "Is it because they've had too much to drink? Is it because they don't like you?”

The fans turned out to be protesters and one of them was carrying the American flag under his arm. As they laid down the flag and doused it with a can of lighter fluid, Rick Monday darted at them from center field.

"It angered me for a lot of reasons," he said. "First of all, you're interrupting the game. Secondly, now you're bringing out a flag and I was only about three or four years removed from being in the Marine Reserves."

Monday considered bowling them over if he got there on time, but the first match blew out as they tried to ignite the flag. Monday improvised. He scooped up the soaking wet flag and kept running with it. By the time he'd handed it to a teammate near the dugout, Tommy Lasorda let the protesters have a few choice words. At the time, Lasorda was the third baseman for the Dodgers.

"He [Lasorda] came running past me yelling about every expletive that a longshoreman would utter on a bad, bad day!" Monday said.

The fans were arrested, and when Monday came to the plate for his at-bat in the top of the fifth inning, the scoreboard in center field paid tribute with - "Rick Monday...you made a great play" and the California crowd gave the Cubs outfielder a standing ovation. One year later, they'd be cheering for him again. The Cubs traded Rick Monday in a five-player deal that brought Bill Buckner and Ivan DeJesus to the North side. Rick Monday went on to play a total of 19 seasons in the Majors. He was part of the Dodgers World Series championship team in 1981.

43 years after the flag incident, Rick Monday works in the Dodgers radio broadcast booth and that American flag is still a part of his life. He and his wife take the flag around the country while raising money for military charities. Monday says he reacted quickly that day because that's the way he was raised. Six years in the United States Marine Corps Forces Reserves only reinforced those instincts.

"It's a good thing I did get it, because I did not want any of my former drill instructors from the Marine Corps to come and say, 'Hey Marine! Why did you stand there and watch when they ignited the American flag?" Monday said.

An All-American play by a two-time All-Star outfielder

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Addison Russell goes 1-for-4 in rehab assignment with the Iowa Cubs

Addison Russell goes 1-for-4 in rehab assignment with the Iowa Cubs

Addison Russell is nearing the end of his 40-game suspension for violating the MLB's domestic abuse policy. He made his first rehab start with the Iowa Cubs on Wednesday night, performing quite well in the stint.

He was 1-for-4 with an RBI, one walk and a stolen base to boot in Iowa’s 6-4 win over the Nashville Sounds. Unless there any changes in the expected gameplan, Russell will be able to rejoin the big league club on May 3 at the earliest, when they begin a series against the division-rival St. Louis Cardinals.

Russell was a key piece of the 2016 World Series team but it will be interesting to see how he fits into the mix with Javier Báez in the midst of an excellent season at shortstop.

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