Cubs Opening Day: Projecting the starting lineup for Thursday’s game

(Photo by Steph Chambers/Getty Images)
(Photo by Steph Chambers/Getty Images) /
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Chicago Cubs
(Photo by Carmen Mandato/Getty Images) /

No.1 Ian Happ-CF

The Cubs haven’t acquired a traditional leadoff man since Dexter Fowler left for St. Louis in the 2016 offseason. It’s cost them at times, but rather than look elsewhere for help the team decided to fix the problem internally. There was the failed Kyle Schwarber experiment, and the just as brutal Kris Bryant project last summer.

As the team’s hottest hitter in 2020, manager David Ross decided to put Ian Happ at the top of the order and it paid off. As the first batter of the game, Happ posted a line of .273/.351/.727 with four home runs, four walks, and nine strikeouts in 37 plate-appearances. Happ has picked up where he left off this spring, slashing .318/.434./.568 with two home runs in 18 games.

Happ will be the key to the Cubs offense in 2021. If he performs well at the top of the lineup, it’s going to make everyone else’s job easier.

No.2 Kris Bryant-3B

A bounce back season from former MVP Kris Bryant is a must for a successful Cubs offense. At 29-years old, it’s hard to believe he’s reached his ceiling already. His line of .206/.293/.351 in 34 games last summer was by far the worst he’s ever been. Bryant’s numbers this spring haven’t been encouraging (.158/.319/.263) but the hope is he shakes off the cobwebs when the bell rings on Opening Day.

If the struggles continue, at some point the Cubs will need to consider starting David Bote, Eric Sogard, or Nico Hoener at third base.

No.3 Anthony Rizzo-1B

The heart and soul of the Cubs who’s time in Chicago could be coming to an end. A low-ball offer on a contract extension will give Rizzo a bigger chip on his shoulder this season than he already had. Prior to last season, Rizzo had been one of the most consistent first baseman in the league.

From 2014-2017 he had four consecutive seasons of 30-plus home runs, and from 2015-2018 four straight seasons of 100-plus RBI. Rizzo needs to get back to that level of production to help this team win games, and that will get him the payday he’s looking for if not from the Cubs then someone else.

In 17 spring games, Rizzo looks like he’s in midseason form with a slash line of .279/.392/.535 to go with three home runs and nine RBI.