Chicago Cubs: Offensive consistency is already a major concern for team
There is no doubt the Chicago Cubs have talent in their lineup. But if they continue to fail out of the leadoff spot, there will be issues again in 2018.
We have reached the week of Thanksgiving, and the playoff blues still haunt many of us. Thoughts of what could have been – or what should have been – fill the minds and dreams of fans around the globe. The celebration of last season’s success still rings fresh in our memories. Hope built to new heights came crashing down when the Chicago Cubs were eliminated from the playoffs.
At least the Los Angeles Dodgers lost the World Series. I believe many of us would still be steaming had they won it all.
But, the story of the new Cubs era is being written. It is one filled with success. I mean, the team won 92 or more games for three consecutive years. This included taking out the St. Louis Cardinals, Dodgers and Washington Nationals to make a third-straight NLCS. After a century mired in defeat, you would think losing to not affect us so much. But it does.
And, we can point the finger to several things. Maybe Joe Maddon mishandled the pitching staff. Or fatigue after a longer-than-normal 2016 season impacted the team. For me, it is one thing. The offense was never in a place for success in 2017. That has to change quick.
Starts at the top
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What doomed the Chicago Cubs in 2017 was the leadoff spot in the order. Many fans disagreed with placing Kyle Schwarber at the top of the lineup. It was not a place he would ever truly find success. It potentially hurt his entire season.
When you sit back and look at the stats, it is clear the leadoff batter impeded the team’s ability to win. As a team, the Cubs placed 15 different players in the batting order’s top spot.
The collective unit finished the season with a .246/.324/.422 slash-line and scored 106 runs. The numbers are lower than what the team experienced in 2016. That season, the Cubs leadoff batters hit for a slash line of .267/.381/.434. They also scored 119 runs.
Okay, so many that does not sound like a huge difference. However, the 2017 edition was better than only six other teams in average, nine in on-base percentage.
Maybe it was lack of patience? The leadoff batters in 2017 walked 35 less times than in 2016. Whatever the reason, stability is a must. And it needs to be someone who is consistent.
It is likely the Chicago Cub’s front office will spend money and resources on pitching this offseason. They tend to trust their batters more than the arms in the rotation and pen. Still, finding the right starter for the line-up is needed.
Albert Almora performed well at the top of the line-up least season. But, he was slotted there for just 17 plate appearances. He was liability against right-handed pitching, which limited his use. If he could improve in that one area, he will see more opportunities. And, it seems the rest of the Cubs’ lineup responds to his appearances.
Ian Happ could find his way to the top of the order, but he has much more maturing to do before be placed in a high-pressure spot. At least, I believe so. Ben Zobrist is another likely option; however, he struggled to hit last season. Was it age or injury? I am betting the latter, but not sure he is the answer either.
Willson Contreras? No. Nor Anthony Rizzo or Kris Bryant. Not Jason Heyward.
That does not leave many other options. Javier Baez swings at too many balls out of the zone. And Addison Russell is inconsistent. Jon Jay would be a great fit, but can the Cubs re-sign him. Now we start to see the issue that face Maddon at the start of the season.
That means it is time to look outside the roster. Lorenzo Cain could be an option, but he will want a high-dollar contract. Plus, other pieces would need to be moved. Does the team send Schwarber to the AL, move Almora to left, and place Cain in center? That is one option.
Neil Walker is not a fit for leadoff. Jarrod Dyson doesn’t hit well enough. After that, the free agent options are, well, not real options.
Next: Chicago Cubs could get a big boost from resurgent Ben Zobrist
So, who take the leadoff spot in 2018? You’re guess is as good as Maddon’s.