Why Friday’s Cubs lineup is worth rolling with for foreseeable future

Why Friday’s Cubs lineup is worth rolling with for foreseeable future

One of the most consistent things about the Cubs under manager Joe Maddon has been the team’s inconsistent starting lineup. Including Friday, the team have used 37 different batting orders in 42 games this season.

The most common Cubs starting lineup this season has featured Kris Bryant, Anthony Rizzo and Javier Baez hitting second, third and fourth, respectively. Outside of that, the lineup has featured:

-Five leadoff hitters,
-Five No. 5 hitters
-Eight No. 6 hitters
-Nine No. 7 hitters
-12 No. 8 hitters
-10 No. 9 hitters

On the one hand, this should come as no surprise to anyone. The Cubs have had a plethora of position player depth during Maddon’s tenure on the North Side. Plus, the leadoff spot has been a revolving door since Dexter Fowler moved on in free agency following the 2016 season.

If Friday’s 14-6 win over the Nationals is any indication, it’s that the Cubs may have found a consistent and formidable 1-5 for their batting order. Here’s the lineup Maddon rolled out on Friday:

1. Kyle Schwarber – LF
2. Kris Bryant – 3B
3. Anthony Rizzo – 1B
4. Javier Baez – SS
5. Willson Contreras – C
6. Daniel Descalso – 2B
7. Jason Heyward – RF
8. Albert Almora Jr. – CF
9. Cole Hamels – P

The aforementioned Bryant-Rizzo-Báez grouping made its return Friday, with Anthony Rizzo re-joining the lineup after missing four games due to back tightness. Willson Contreras assumed his usual No. 5 spot in the order, with Nos. 6-9 featuring the usual mix-and-match that Maddon favors.

It’s foolish to expect the Cubs to stick with any semblance of a set starting lineup. However, the combination of Schwarber-Bryant-Rizzo-Baez-Contreras at the top of the order has the potential to be one formidable bunch.

While Schwarber has struggled to rack up hits consistently this season — he holds a .220/.345/.398 slash line — he has a .410 OBP over his last 15 games thanks to his 16 walks over the span. This includes Friday, where he went 1-for-3 with a home run and three walks.

Cubs fans remember all too well how Schwarber struggled in the leadoff spot in 2017. In 37 games hitting first, he slashed .190/.312/.381 with 24 walks compared to 48 strikeouts. His struggles earned him a trip to Triple-A Iowa and the Cubs abandoning the Schwarber-leadoff experiment altogether.

That was two seasons ago, however. Schwarber has just four multi-hit games this season, but his recent success getting on base shouldn’t go unnoticed. He’s unlikely to finish the season with a .410 OBP, but if he starts hitting more consistently, on top of maintaining his patient approach, he might be the Cubs’ best option in the leadoff spot.

In theory, having Schwarber in the leadoff spot will only generate more RBI chances for Bryant, Rizzo, Baez and Contreras. Bryant (.277/.405/.581, 11 home runs, 31 RBI) has shaken off his cold start to return to the force he was before his shoulder injury last season. Rizzo (.250/.377/.521, 10 home runs, 29 RBI) is producing how we’ve come used to seeing from him and likely has another level to hit based on his batting average.

Baez (.330/.370/.615, 11 home runs, 30 RBI) and Contreras (.320/.422/.633, 11 home runs, 29 RBI) could be in the midst of career years.

Outside of days off for the latter four players, the Cubs would be wise to keep things unchanged in the 2-5 spots in their lineup. By adding Schwarber and his on-base prowess ahead of that group, we might finally have a Cubs lineup with some ounce of consistency.

Then again, things change quickly in baseball. The players above could start slumping or, in a worst-case scenario, get hurt, causing Maddon to shake things up. Ben Zobrist could return to the team at some point, and he leads the Cubs with 14 appearances in the leadoff spot this seasons.

Those three scenarios aren’t happening right now, though. A number of Cubs are rolling offensively and the group could hit another level overall if Schwarber's bat turns a corner. As the saying goes, if it ain't broke, don't fix it. The Cubs' offense certainly isn't broken right now.

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Adbert Alzolay makes some memories on an otherwise forgettable night for the Cubs

Adbert Alzolay makes some memories on an otherwise forgettable night for the Cubs

The Cubs lost an entirely forgettable game on Tuesday night, dropping the second of their four games against the NL East-leading Braves by a score of 3-2. They left four men on base, only managed four hits, ran into two outs, and made one error in a game that was over well in time for a Clark Street nightcap, or three. 

What was memorable about Tuesday night was the performance of Adbert Alzolay, the Cubs’ top pitching prospect who was making his first major league start. The final line: 4.2 innings pitched, one hit, one run, four walks and four strikeouts. It’s certainly not the prettiest line you’ll see in tomorrow’s box scores, but the 24 year old passed the eye test with flying colors. 

“Everything was good - he was outstanding,” Joe Maddon said after the game. “I just think he hit a well there at the end. We just have to get him more used to that. Listen, he’s been injured in the past, he’s coming back - you’ve got to be real sensitive to the number of pitches and workload you put on him, because you can see how good he’s going to be.”

Things got off to an inauspicious start for Alzolay, whose first pitch of the game was crushed 413 feet into the left field bleachers for a leadoff homer, courtesy of Braves’ outfielder Ronald Acuña Jr. It would prove to be the only hit and run that Alzolay allowed on the night. 

“It’s just one pitch,” he said. “You have to keep working - the game continues. I was just starting the game, so if you lose your mind in that situation than you’re not going to last a lot of innings.

“Even after the home run, he came right back and said, ‘I’m fine’,” Maddon added. “Then he went up and got three really good hitters out. I liked the mound demeanor, we’ve just got to get him a little further along in regards to being stretched out.”

After coming out flat with his secondary pitches during his 4-inning relief appearance on June 20th, Alzolay flashed better command and execution of both his curveball and changeup. Half of his strikeouts came on the curveball - one to get left fielder Austin Riley in the 2nd and one to get Acuña in the 3rd. After throwing 13 changeups in his debut, Alzolay double that number on Tuesday (27). 

“I’m feeling really confident throwing the pitch in any count,” Alzolay said of his changeup. “Tonight I threw it a couple times when I was behind in the count and I got a good result after that, so I’ll just keep on throwing it.

“For us to get confident at something, you have to practice, you have to execute it, and you have to use it in the game,” said catcher Willson Contreras, who plated both of the Cubs’ two runs with a double in the 4th. “For him to be able to throw the changeup for a strike, and strikeout people, it’s really good - especially at his age.”

Maddon couldn’t answer when Alzolay would make his next start. With Kyle Hendricks eyeing a return around the All-Star break, there would seemingly be a few more opportunities ahead of the rookie. Given what he showed on Tuesday night, it’d be hard to argue against it.

"He can be really good in the big leagues," Contreras said. "He still needs to make adjustments like all of us, but with the confidence he has, the ability he has, and the way he prepares before the games, it's going to take him a long way."

Cubs Talk Podcast: Ryne Sandberg: Part 1


Cubs Talk Podcast: Ryne Sandberg: Part 1

Luke Stuckmeyer sits down with Cubs legend Ryne Sandberg for a wide-ranging conversation centered around the infamous "Sandberg Game."

Ryne gives insight into his feelings upon being traded to the Cubs (2:00), and discusses the reason he ended up with the No. 23 (5:00). Plus, how the 1984 season changed everything and raised his personal expectations sky-high (9:00) and the "Daily Double" dynamic between him and Bob Dernier (16:00).

Listen to the full episode in the embedded player below:

Cubs Talk Podcast