Chicago Cubs: Don’t expect a consistent lineup with this roster

(Photo by Mark Brown/Getty Images)
(Photo by Mark Brown/Getty Images) /

With the Chicago Cubs front office remaining relatively quiet throughout the offseason, expect Joe Maddon to continue shuffling his lineup on a consistent basis.

Despite a World Series title in 2016, Chicago Cubs manager Joe Maddon has been among the most heavily criticized skippers in the game. While a wide range of complaints has been tossed around regarding Maddon’s tactics, perhaps nothing bothers Cubs fans more than his ever-changing lineup card.

With one year left on Maddon’s contract, he’ll likely continue to manage his team similarly to how he has over the past four seasons.

Leadoff man conundrum

Ever since Dexter Fowler left the Cubs after the 2016 season, the most significant lineup question centers around the leadoff spot. In 2017, the Kyle Schwarber leadoff experiment failed, and Ian Happ wasn’t much better in the same role last season.

Conventional wisdom might lead many fans to think center fielder Albert Almora should assume the role of leadoff man. Just plug him in there every day. He hits for average and gives you speed at the top of the order. Not so fast. Almora’s high average and lack of significant power might fit the mold of a traditional leadoff man, but there are some red flags to handing him the role.

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In 2018, Almora had a .323. OBP, but a .340 mark against left-handed pitching, where he does most of his damage. If Cubs fans want a traditional leadoff man with a knack for getting on base, Almora might not be the answer.

Ben Zobrist‘s 2018 numbers would indicate that he could be a candidate for the leadoff spot. The switch-hitting Zobrist was remarkably consistent from both sides of the plate. He had a .377 OBP against right-handed pitching, and a .381 OBP against left-handers. However, some drop off should be expected from the 37 – year – old utility man, as well as an increased emphasis on rest and days off for the veteran.

Look for another season where Maddon mixes and matches with the leadoff spot. Almora, Zobrist and Happ could all see time at the top of the order.

Star players continually moving

With Kris Bryant, Anthony Rizzo and Javier Baez, the Cubs could have three legitimate MVP candidates heading into the season. They may also be the only three players who will be in Maddon’s lineup every day, barring injury.

I think in an ideal world, Maddon would love to hit Bryant in the two hole with Rizzo and Baez following. Unfortunately, when the Cubs offense “broke” down the stretch in 2018, Maddon chose to improvise. Bryant was dinged up, and in and out of the lineup, Rizzo saw significant time in all lineup spots 1-4, and Baez hit in all nine spots in the order. With Bryant being injured and Rizzo overcoming slumps early in 2018, we still haven’t seen these three players playing their best baseball together.

Outfield core has room to grow. dark. Next

If the Cubs big three can produce to their capabilities in 2019, I don’t think it necessarily matters where they hit in the order. Just have them up near the top, and the Cubs will score a lot of runs.

Despite a disappointing end to 2018, the Cubs lineup could (and should) still be lethal in 2019. It just won’t be consistent.