Chicago Cubs: Yet another look at the current outfield situation

(Photo by David Banks/Getty Images)
(Photo by David Banks/Getty Images) /

Over the last few years, the Chicago Cubs have mixed and matched lineups on a near-daily basis, showing the unpredictable nature of manager Joe Maddon.

Besides Anthony Rizzo, Kris Bryant, Wilson Contreras, Javy Baez and Addison Russell, the rest of the positions players are up in the air in terms of who will play every day for the Chicago Cubs.

Out of the crowded outfield the Cubs have – Kyle Schwarber, Albert Almora Jr., Ian Happ, Ben Zobrist and Jason Heyward – it’s almost a toss-up on when certain players will play.

With Heyward’s offensive emergence since May 18, it’s an even harder task for Maddon to decide who will start. When Schwarber starts, he’s always in left field, which comes as no surprise. Almora starts in center and Heyward in right. Zobrist sees time in left and right field if he’s not playing second base and we’ve seen Happ play all three outfield positions.

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The questions remain: who deserves to play every day? Is the lack of consistent playing time hurting some players development?

Schwarber much improved

Schwarber is a much improved defender, as he’s shown off the arm leading the Cubs in outfield assists with seven. He had seven outfield assists altogether in 2017. The numbers speak for themselves at the plate. He’s not just a power hitter who tries to pull the ball every time he comes to the plate, like in 2017.

He currently posts a 122 wRC+, which is 22 points above league average and 20 points higher than his 2017 campaign. His walk rate (16.1 percent) is 4.3 percentage points higher than last season while his strike out rate (25.2 percent) is 5.7 percent lower than in 2017.

Almora is a human highlight reel in center field and is putting together a career year at the plate, slashing .325/.372/.440, good for a .812 OPS.

Heyward has been raking since May 18 when he returned from the DL. He posts a 124 wRC+, slashing .307/.347/.489, all while adding a boost to an offense that’s already loaded.

Happ had a horrific April, striking out 44.6 percent of his at-bats, but has seemed to find some rhythm over the last two months finding ways to get on base while having power. He’s slashing .221/.388/.495 since May 1. That said, he still posts a 39.5 percent strikeout rate for the season.

Zobrist is easier to move around since he can play the infield but he’s came back strong after a lack luster 2017, showing he can play in the leadoff spot on a consistent basis. Many thought he’d see a much smaller role given his age and rough 2017 going into the season.

Here’s how I’d line them up

Right now it should be Schwarber-Almora-Heyward every day in the outfield, but what if a left-handed pitcher is starting against the Cubs? Schwarber is slashing .294/.415/.353 against southpaws. Heyward is only 8-for-42 against lefties but I’m a firm believer of the ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’ saying. He has collected clutch hits off both righties and lefties in the last month, while spraying the ball all over the ballpark. Thus, he needs to be in the lineup. Almora needs to be in the lineup for his defense in centerfield alone.

It will be interesting to see what happens come the end of July. Depending on where the Cubs are, they could move someone to create more playing time for another player. I see Maddon’s thought process and reasoning for why he makes his lineups the way they are, but I do wonder if the inconsistency of playing time for Happ affects him. He’s only started 41 games out of 68 games played this season. Schwarber, Almora and Heyward each have started more games.

Next: Darvish could miss the rest of the first half

We can check back in two months and see where these young guys stand. What’s good is seeing some of these guys continue to develop nicely.