Almora, Zobrist Top List of Cubs’ Possible Leadoff Options
Spring training is over and the real games begin on Thursday. So it’s time for that annual question that Cubs fans and bloggers spill so much digital ink over: Who will bat in the leadoff spot?
Joe Maddon has gotten creative since prototypical leadoff hitter Dexter Fowler left for St. Louis in 2017, with Jason Heyward and Kyle Schwarber getting relatively long and not very successful looks. Ian Happ started off with a bang atop the order in 2018, but that quickly went downhill and now Happ is back in Iowa. Anthony Rizzo has gotten occasional stints batting first, although never with the intent of leaving him there.
If spring training games are taken into account, a platoon between Ben Zobrist and Albert Almora Jr. seems the most likely plan to start the season. Zobrist’s high on-base approach has always been a good fit for the leadoff spot. Almora kills left-handed pitchers, so expect to see him a top the order against southpaws despite his allergy to walks. Maddon may also occasionally move a slumping hitter up for a few games, like he first did with Rizzo.
Another factor to keep in mind is that it appears the Cubs may hit the pitcher in the eighth spot in the order on a regular basis. Maddon picked up the idea from Tony La Russa as a way to put more men on base in front of the heart of the order. When Almora hasn’t led off, he has gotten some time this spring in the ninth spot against right-handed pitchers.
This would be a good spot for Heyward to bat against right-handed pitchers as well, since his patient approach and good OBP skills would be perfect for a second leadoff role. It would also be a safe position in which to deploy Mark Zagunis when he makes the occasional start, since his similar ability to reach base would help to set the table.
Even though Maddon has never been one to roll with a lineup for more than a game or two, someone really taking to role would help to solidify things at least a little. As always, lineups are subject to change, so check with your local blog for details.