It is no secret that the Chicago Cubs offense has been scuffling tremendously for much of August. Albert Almora could be the answer to that problem.
Joe Maddon‘s multiple adaptations of the lineup card over the course of this season have brought mixed results. While the decision to insert Anthony Rizzo back into the leadoff spot in July paid huge dividends in getting the star first baseman back on track, it left a hole in the middle of the order.
With Kris Bryant still working his way back from a bad shoulder and the Cubs having somewhat of a lack in slugging in the lineup, Maddon understood the need to mix things up again, moving Rizzo back down to the no. 4 spot on Tuesday night against the Tigers. Of course, moving Rizzo out of the leadoff spot meant the Cubs were losing their highest OBP guy at the top of the order.
Cue Albert Almora. The 24-year-old supplied two hits and a walk in Chicago’s 2-1 losing effort Tuesday, once again showing his comfort in being the catalyst for the Cubs offense. Granted, the Cubs still only managed one run and stranded 10 runners even with Rizzo batting cleanup, but the opportunities to score were far more prevalent than they had been in Pittsburgh.
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Really, all this is to say that Almora must hit leadoff more permanently. I understand that he does not have the highest OBP (.340) and that he can be a free swinger (41.5 percent chase rate, according to FanGraphs), but the numbers do not lie.
Let the numbers do the talking
In 176 at-bats from the leadoff spot this season, Almora is hitting .347 with a .835 OPS. When he has led off an inning for the Cubs this year, Almora is hitting .317 with a .811 OPS. There is something to be said when a guy feels comfortable at a certain spot in the lineup: if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.
Look, the Cubs cannot afford to remove guys like Rizzo or Javier Baez from the middle of the lineup given their August offensive funk. And although he is in the midst of his best season in Chicago, Jason Heyward is a poor man’s Kris Bryant from the no. 2 spot in the order. The acquisition of Daniel Murphy from the Nationals should do wonders for the Cubs, but only if he has table-setters in front of him.
So they still need a jump starter, a “You Go, We Go” Dexter Fowler-type spark at the top of the order that can make things happen and give the Cubs chances to score early in the ballgame. At this point in the season, Almora remains the best candidate for that role.
Almora has been one of the best hitters on the Cubs in terms of spreading the ball around. According to FanGraphs, nearly one-third of his batted balls have been to the center of the field, while almost 30 percent have been to the opposite field. And despite the tendency to chase, Almora’s strikeout rate of 17.3 percent is one of the lowest on the team.
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Maddon should not overthink this move. Almora’s success in the leadoff spot should make him a more permanent fixture in the order, and might just inspire some confidence in him after a slow start to the second half. If Tuesday night is any indication, Almora is well on his way.