Offensively, the 2016 Chicago Cubs showed their ability to score. With another season under their, could the 2017 lineup prove potent?
The talk is rampant. Comparisons are being made between the Chicago Cubs‘ offense in 2016 and the possible line-up of 2017. Can the team put up similar numbers this year with the changes made? Is the 2017 lineup better than last year? We will not know until after the season is over.
The main question remains who will leadoff for the Cubs. Why? Simple. Whoever is tasked with leading off sets the table for batters that follow. And, the talent that follows is capable of big things.
More from Cubbies Crib
- Cubs should keep close eye on non-tender candidate Cody Bellinger
- Cubs starting pitching has been thriving on the North Side
- Make no mistake: the Cubs are very much about power hitters
- Cubs are giving pitcher Javier Assad a deserved shot
- Cubs: It’s time to start thinking about potential September call-ups
The heart of the lineup for any team is the second through fifth spots in the order. These players are the ones that move runners and knock runs in. Few teams did that as well as the Chicago Cubs in 2016. Their second and third hitters for a large portion of the season were Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo, respectively. Together, they combined for 71 home runs and 211 runs batted in. When you add in Ben Zobrist, whom was often fourth in the order, you get a promising offensive performance.
However, 2016 was not your average year. Injuries and poor performance forced Cubs Manager Joe Maddon to constantly adjust his lineup. Batters shifted around like snow in the Lake Michigan-influenced wind. Only the two, three, and four batters remained consistent.
Ideally, a team’s most powerful hitters are slated third or fourth in the order. Maybe fifth, depending on the pitching match-up. That was not the Cubs last year. Zobrist is known for getting on base, moving runners over, and scoring. Not for his power. Over his career, he averages 18 home runs per season, with a high of 27 in 2009. He also averages 89 runs scored per season.
In 2017, the Chicago Cubs possess the potential to put up powerful numbers. With Kyle Schwarber healthy, the heart of the lineup is filled with potency. And, given the performances of Willson Contreras, Addison Russell, and Javier Baez this year, the line-up’s possibilities extend from top to bottom.
Once the matter of who leads off is answered, the Cubs can place the heart of the order. It is the thing that pitchers fear the most. There will be no easy at-bats. Putting switch-hitting Zobrist in the second spot gives the team a knowledgable veteran who knows the value of small-ball. In fact, for his career, Zobrist has hit for .273/.369/.430 split with 31 home runs when batting second. He can bunt. He understands situations and knows how to execute. Plus, he understands the strike zone and sees more pitches per at-bat than any other Cubs’ player. If someone is on, he can move them into scoring position.
From there, Maddon has options. Does he bat Rizzo, Bryant, or Schwarber? In what order? All have power and showed their ability to hit in clutch moments. Rizzo is the league’s best at hitting with two strikes. Bryant is at his best with men on base. And Schwarber’s presence and patience, as displayed during the World Series, only adds stress to pitchers. Plus, the leadership and energy these players bring to a young team cannot be overstated.
The match-up options are what managers dream of. With a switch-hitting veteran, two powerful lefties, and an MVP from the right side of the plate, opposing pitchers will run the gauntlet. Deciding who to pitch to or around will be difficult. Any one of the four batters can hurt you in multiple ways.
What’s more is that the sixth through eight hitters could be “heart of the order” players on other teams. But, as we saw throughout 2016, it is just potential. There were several times that the Cubs’ offense failed to hit or score. The playoffs prove that point. However, if the team remains healthy in 2017, scoring runs will not be a problem.