Chicago Cubs: Could Soler force the issue and start in October?

Aug 9, 2016; Chicago, IL, USA; Chicago Cubs left fielder Jorge Soler (68) laughs during the fifth inning of the game against the Los Angeles Angels at Wrigley Field. Mandatory Credit: Caylor Arnold-USA TODAY Sports
Aug 9, 2016; Chicago, IL, USA; Chicago Cubs left fielder Jorge Soler (68) laughs during the fifth inning of the game against the Los Angeles Angels at Wrigley Field. Mandatory Credit: Caylor Arnold-USA TODAY Sports /

Jorge Soler has been on a tear this month since returning from a hamstring injury, all while Jason Heyward has struggled at the plate. With that being said, could Soler take over the starting right field spot in the postseason for the Chicago Cubs?

When looking back on what has occurred during the 2016 season so far, it isn’t hard to conclude that Jason Heyward has had a rough going at the plate. After hitting .293 last season and signing an eight-year $184 million contract, Heyward has hit just .225 in 2016, never truly getting into a groove with his bat.

After posting a tremendous WAR (wins above replacement) of 6.5 with the St. Louis Cardinals in 2015, that number has decreased all the way to 1.1 for Heyward in 2016. Simply put, Heyward has been bad this season. Bad enough, in fact, that he received a “mental break” from manager Joe Maddon this weekend, which can be loosely translated to getting benched.

I hate to bash Heyward when he’s already down because he has shown positive flashes this season. Although he hasn’t hit well, his defense and base running have been as-advertised.

Between his time in center field and right field in 2016, Heyward has made just a single error. So one can’t say 2016 has been a complete crap-shoot from the three-time Gold Glove winner.

Putting everything aside, though, it might be time for the Cubs to start thinking of what to do with Heyward during the postseason. With the Cubs leading the division by 12.0 games after Sunday’s loss, it would take a complete collapse for the team to miss the playoffs.

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While Heyward has struggled at the plate all season, Jorge Soler has had tremendous success hitting as of late. Although his batting average is just .240, Soler has hit .298 over his last 30 games (as of Sunday, August 21st), hitting seven home runs with 18 RBI and 17 runs scored along the way. To put things into perspective, Heyward has just 32 RBI all season.

With Heyward struggling at the plate and Soler hitting as well as he is, is it possible that the Cubs could bench Heyward for Soler during the playoffs? While it’s true that Soler can play left field while Heyward plays right, benching Heyward would be contingent on several different circumstances.

First off, benching Heyward would not have to be permanent. Maddon has shown time and time again that he prefers to play guys based on the matchup at hand, opposed to riding a hot hand game after game. Heyward very well could play in the postseason, but he might see the number of starts he receives decrease.

Another circumstance the Cubs have to consider is their catching situation. Willson Contreras has taken over as the top catcher on the depth chart, with Maddon even putting the rookie behind the plate to catch Cy Young award winner Jake Arrieta Wednesday this week.

Contreras’ bat has proved quite valuable in 2016. In fact, he’s been so valuable that the Cubs have played him at other positions just to keep him in the lineup. Although Contreras has become the “main catcher,” David Ross still starts every game that Jon Lester is on the mound. If Ross, or even Miguel Montero are catching, it’s still safe to say that Contreras will be in the lineup.

Why is this significant? Essentially, Contreras playing the outfield means either Soler or Heyward is on the bench. Regardless of which player that is, the Cubs will have to sit an impact player during meaningful playoff games.

Whether or not the Cubs sit Heyward is all a matter of opinion. If the Cubs decide they want a great defensive lineup on the field, Heyward is their guy. Having his glove on the field during the playoffs will be important.

Considering the fact that postseason games often come down to one big run, play or moment, Heyward clearly is a valuable asset to this Cubs team. If he can figure things out at the plate, he could contribute more ways than one, a plus for the Cubs.

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While Soler is no slouch in the outfield, he is not the same defensive player as Heyward. However, the Cubs might want his bat in the lineup. In 2015, Soler hit .474 in seven postseason games, including three home runs. While he might not replicate that success, sitting someone with that on his track record could be difficult.

The Cubs like to get their entire roster involved during games, meaning the issue at hand can be dealt with. Soler and Heyward will both get game action during the playoffs. But choosing which starts in right field for the first game will definitely be an interesting situation come playoff time.

First and foremost, though, here’s to hoping the Cubs can clinch a spot in October before worrying about anything else!