Presented By Cubs Insiders

The Cubs aren't planning on giving up on Ian Happ anytime soon.

Nor do they plan on writing Albert Almora Jr.'s name in permanent marker in the leadoff spot every night.

The leadoff spot and center field have become polarizing topics among Cubs fans, and they go hand-in-hand.

The lineup has been pretty stable to begin 2018: Happ leads off and plays center against right-handed starting pitchers while Almora leads off and plays center against lefties. There have been some exceptions, of course, but that's the general rule of thumb. 

There are many reasons behind why Joe Maddon writes his lineups out this way, but the most prevalent is matchups.

Just because the Cubs scored 13 runs on one day when Almora led off against a lefty doesn't mean Maddon will automatically keep the lineup the same the next day against a righty.

"He did really well [Wednesday] because there were some really good matchups for him and there are others coming up," Maddon said.

Maddon also pointed to the fact Almora has been feeling under the weather this week, comparing the young outfielder to a "Gumby" color Wednesday night.

The Cubs manager typically makes his lineup a day or two ahead of time, letting players know the day before they're supposed to be playing. It's all based on the other team's starting pitcher and what kind of defense the Cubs want out on the field behind their own starter.

"I think it's wise to stick with the plan," Maddon said. "If you go willy-nilly all the time — in this game, if you just wanna deal with emotional success on a daily basis — I think you're gonna go wrong a lot."


This Almora playing time debate was a hot topic of discussion last last season, as well, as Cubs fans wondered why he wasn't starting every day.

A huge part of the reason why Cubs fans see the best of Almora so often is how Maddon and Co. deploy him. 

Almora struggles against sliders and other breaking pitches from righties, but typically finds success when facing some right-handers who throw a lot of first-pitch fastballs.

It's more complicated than that and the Cubs won't divulge their entire gameplan, of course, but the simple math is: Almora is an aggressive hitter who swings early in counts and that style can match up well with a pitcher who tries to get ahead early with his fastball instead of a breaking pitch like a slider.

"The righty that you didn't want him to see a couple years ago which is kinda black and white is becoming more gray," Maddon said. "He's made some really good adjustments. He's gonna be that [every day player] eventually, 'cause he knows...what he has to do to play every day."

Almora has a career .299 on-base percentage and .709 OPS against righties, and that's with the Cubs carefully choosing which right-handed pitchers he faces.

The Cubs aren't just going to banish Happ to the bench because he struck out a bunch to start the season. This is the first time he's ever been playing Major League Baseball in March or April.

Happ is still only 23 years old. There's a lot of development left. 

But the Cubs already like what they've seen from him — a switch-hitter with power (26 homers in 401 big-league ABs) who will take his walks and has positional versatility. Happ has the speed to play center field and is still learning the position after spending much of his time at second base prior to last season.

For all of Almora's defensive prowess, he just does not possess elite speed, which will always limit his range in center, even with the incredible breaks and routes he takes.

Yes, Happ should've dove Tuesday in a big moment in the series opener against the Pirates, but he also was positioned in left-center against a hitter that often goes the other way and had to run a long way for this ball:

Some fans were also upset with Happ's effort on Cervelli's triple in the second inning Thursday. But that ball was tailing away from Happ due to a howling wind blowing directly out to right-center and he was already running full-speed with the unforgiving brick wall rapidly approaching.

Almora is a much more natural defender in center given that Happ is still learning the position, but Almora doesn't automatically make these catches.

The Cubs are playing the long game, with eyes on another World Series championship. They won't overreact to a couple weeks' worth of games in March/April to determine how guys should play.


"As you move forward into the season, things are going to happen," Maddon said. "Somebody's gonna get hurt. More playing time just based on probably injuries as much as anything else. Albert's been wonderful. They all get it.

"Actually, I addressed that in my first meeting in spring training this year. Talking about that specifically where I think the guys all have one common goal and that's to have that pile-on at the end of the season. Play the last game of the season and win it."