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.Click here to download the new MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the Cubs easily on your device.