The last week for the Chicago Cubs has been very rough. One of the major problems is the offense not producing, and many question whether Joe Maddon’s structure of the lineup card has anything to do with it.
*This article was written on 5/7
It is safe to say most Chicago Cubs fans want to completely wipe out the past five games from their memories, especially the series in St. Louis. It looked like after sweeping Milwaukee that the team was going to take off, but a five-game losing streak puts them back at 16-15. A significant part of this ugly streak has been the lack of offense.
Even when the Cubs were riding the five-game winning streak, they were not scoring a lot. In the last ten games, they have scored 26 total runs, which is three runs or less in every game but one. According to FanGraphs, the team is slashing .202/.242/.344 with a 57 wRC+ in their last seven games. Their 5.2% walk rate the last seven days is the lowest of any team.
Hitting goes in slumps; it is a natural part of a 162 game season. However, the lack of offense for this number of games is puzzling because of the talent on the team. Joe Maddon has been doing his well-known daily lineup shuffle, and it could be asked if it is hurting the team’s chemistry.
Lineup shuffles, what has been done?
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When the Cubs offense was clicking a few weeks ago, the red-hot Albert Almora Jr. and Javier Baez were at the top. Their success helped pave the way for 46 total runs in six games against the Cardinals, Rockies and Indians.
Naturally, the two would not stay red-hot forever, but the lineup has been constantly tinkered since with little success. This includes Baez being moved way down in the order and Almora not starting every day.
Maddon has been putting struggling guys like Anthony Rizzo and Willson Contreras at leadoff. Both guys have gotten hits in their first at-bats as a leadoff man, but then going 0-for the rest of the game.
At least Ben Zobrist has had two good days at leadoff in St. Louis, but he did not start in the finale. Meanwhile, the 4-5 spots in the order have been a rotating door of Contreras, Russell, Rizzo and others. Not much consistency there.
Some slack has to be given to Maddon because of A.) Kris Bryant had been hurt for some time, B.) Though Almora has done great so far, not having a traditional leadoff man can be tricky for a manager, and C.) The number of struggling hitters makes this process difficult. Here are some key stat lines:
Anthony Rizzo: .177/.259/.302
Willson Contreras: .231/.320/.361
Jason Heyward: .227/.315/.340
Ian Happ: .228/.291/.380
Addison Russell: .240/.306/.320
So how much of this IS Maddon’s “fault,” or lack thereof?
Like previously implied by the struggling stat-lines, Maddon is not the one going up to bat. Also, it is obvious that the lineup for any team will not look 100% the same every day as match-ups and guys getting days off play factors. However, some of his changes can seem either unnecessary or just do not really make sense.
It was understandable to give Almora or Baez a day off and change that for a bit, but “Al-Mago” was working so well, it may need to come back. Putting Baez in spots down in the order in front of the pitcher just does not feel like the right spot for him.
The offense seemed to sit nicely and produce with those two starting off, especially with Rizzo and Bryant in the 3-4 spots. Even with Rizzo’s struggles, he had been set up in run-scoring spots. At this point, it is hard to see the harm in doing something that had worked so well while nothing else is working.
Will fans ever know what goes through the minds of these hitters? No. Some may be really bothered by the constant changes while others are not, who knows. Again, it is difficult when several guys that typically produce are not. Could the Cubs use a more consistent lineup? Probably, but the team also has to do their part. Cannot fault Joe Maddon 100% on this.