Last season, Dexter Fowler set the table masterfully for the Chicago Cubs. With the offense struggling, where can the team turn for a new solution?
On a daily basis the last two years, the Chicago Cubs’ offense was a juggernaut in the National League. Sure, having a combination of Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo is nice, but atop the lineup, the team boasted one of the best on-base names in the league in Dexter Fowler.
Losing Fowler hurt – especially to the rival St. Louis Cardinals. But no one really expected such a precipitous drop-off from the Cubs’ offense. Yet, two months into the season, that’s the new reality for the reigning champs.
Chicago leadoff hitters carry a .211 average into Saturday’s showdown with St. Louis. The biggest culprit behind that number, Kyle Schwarber, has been a mess at the plate. Of-late, instead of talking about his talent, it’s been more about his potential demotion back to Triple-A Iowa to sort things out.
Ben Zobrist took a stab at leading off, too. The veteran switch-hitter was an improvement from Schwarber, batting .244/.340/.561 in 11 games. You’d like a higher OBP (which, in this case is a result of a low average), but his plate discipline fits the traditional leadoff role mentality.
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In Friday’s win over the Cardinals, Joe Maddon shook things up in a big way, sliding Schwarber down to seventh, inserting Ian Happ in the leadoff spot. The rookie went 1-for-4 with an aggressive double. Schwarber, meanwhile, went 0-for-2 and was pinch-hit for late in the ballgame.
Do Cubs have an internal option?
So where do we go from here?
Personally, Zobrist is my favorite in-house option. I don’t really put the team’s recent six-game skid and his time atop the order together. But I know there are more than a handful of people who do, so let’s assume he’s not going back to the leadoff spot.
Schwarber won’t touch the leadoff spot again this year. At least, he shouldn’t. Outside of these two, the Cubs’ best option appears to be outfielder Jon Jay.
The former St. Louis and San Diego outfielder owns the second-highest OBP on the team, trailing only Bryant at .372. His splits are negligible, too. Against right-handers, he owns a .746 OPS. Against lefties, he comes in at .760 – batting from the left side.
He gets on base consistently and brings a calming presence atop the lineup. The only downside is Maddon loses his favorite go-to option off the bench. Jay has been one of the hottest pinch-hitters in the game, but if he brings that to the table daily, it completely changes the lineup.
A rookie could change everything
As noted, Happ led things off Friday in a win over the Cardinals. Maddon tapped him for the same role Saturday behind lefty ace Jon Lester. There’s a lot to like about the former first-rounder.
He’s a switch hitter, has a good amount of pop in the bat and runs well – which isn’t something a lot of Chicago players can say. Still, he’s struggled since tearing out of the gates. Over his last seven, Happ is batting a horrendous .105/.150/.158. So, clearly, Maddon knows something we don’t.
If he gets back to how he played in his first week with the Cubs, Happ adds an entirely new dimension to this lineup. A switch-hitter that has the ability to run and get on-base at a high rate – sounds familiar doesn’t it?