All season, the Chicago Cubs have searched for an answer atop the lineup. Is a resurgent Jason Heyward the solution we’ve been searching for?
You can make a pretty strong argument that Jason Heyward has been one of the anchors for a Chicago Cubs team that’s been pretty so-so this year, despite their place in the standings. How did he do it on Friday? By casually leading off the first with a leadoff opposite-field home run to get the offense rolling.
After scoring just three times over the course of the three-game series in St. Louis, the Chicago bats erupted for six runs on a dozen hits – with every player in the starting lineup recording at least one knock.
The Cubs have been dominant at Wrigley Field this year and, sitting in the center field bleachers Friday, I felt the air change as soon as Heyward put the 2-0 pitch into the basket – just out of the reach of a leaping Lorenzo Cain.
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Just like that, the Cubs were off to the races. They scored three more times in the third and added tallies in both the fifth and sixth to put the finishing touches on their win. Heyward finished the day going 1-for-4 with a walk as he settles in as the team’s leadoff hitter.
Joe Maddon is sticking with Heyward in the same spot on Saturday, pairing his veteran outfielder with Nicholas Castellanos atop the order. The latter has turned in some pretty impressive plate appearances in his brief time with the team, showing a patience and ability to work counts that’s been lacking with most of his teammates.
But as for Heyward, the five-time Gold Glover is doing whatever he can to help the team win. Right now, that’s leading off and setting the tone for the club.
"“It’s about me wanting to make the most of my time playing baseball,” Heyward told MLB.com. “Whatever works best for whatever team I’m on, I’m going to try to do that. And right now, that’s what they feel is best, so let’s go. It’s not look around and see what works best for me. If it can be done, try and get it done.”"
In his career, Heyward carries a .259/.337/.406 line out of the leadoff spot – which is leaps and bounds better than the production Chicago’s gotten to this point from the merry-go-round of guys they’ve tried atop the order. In July, Cubs leadoff hitters posted the worst OPS in the entire National League. Hopefully, a veteran presence atop the order can change that.
"“By embracing leadoff,” Cubs president of baseball operations Theo Epstein said, “and getting on base up there, just at the rate that he’s done so far this year — a .350-.360 on-base up at leadoff — and his ability to run the bases, that really helps this team.”"
In theory, this will give the team’s big bats – Kris Bryant, Anthony Rizzo and Javier Baez – more chances with runners in scoring position. All told, the one-two punch of Heyward and Castellanos sure feels like the best combination we’ve seen atop the order in some time.
If they can jump start this struggling offense, the team might, at long last, be able to separate themselves from the rest of a very tightly-packed National League Central.