Just three days out from Opening Day and the suspense is killing us! To pass the time until meaningful games commence let’s speculate on the Cubs Opening Day lineup vs. Adam Wainwright and the St. Louis Cardinals.
1. CF Dexter Fowler: The lead-off position should be the easiest pick as Fowler was brought in specifically by the Cubs to get on base early and set the table for the power hitters in the 3 – 5 positions. Fowler enters 2015 with a career .366 On Base Percentage meaning the Cubs have upgraded at the position and he’s a switch-hitter to boot, giving the Cubs added flexibility at the top of the order.
2. RF Jorge Soler: While some sites project him in the cleanup spot, it’s hard to see Maddon starting a rookie there when early on he will be much more valuable in the 2-hole with his aggressive approach, getting on base so the Cubs proven All-Stars behind him can drive him in. By all accounts, Soler can play and some believe he will battle teammate Kris Bryant for Rookie of the Year honors. If he gets hot early, it wouldn’t be shocking to see him move into the heart of the lineup but for now he starts at #2.
3. 1B Anthony Rizzo: He will be the glue that holds this thing together. As he matures, it’s not out of the question to see him put up even bigger numbers than his All-Star campaign last year. With formidable hitters in front of him expect to see his RBI’s increase from 78 a year ago and if he can duplicate his Top Ten performance in Home Runs in 2014, these Cubs could make some noise.
4. SS Starlin Castro: Would love to see him continue on an upward trajectory from last year and with Addison Russell waiting in the wings it will be imperative for Starlin to have a big year not only for himself but for the team as well. After his first healthy spring in years, expect Castro to get off to a good start.
5. C Miguel Montero: Another Cubs’ off-season acquisition and another 2014 All-Star in the heart of the order. Montero provides an upgrade not only with his catching ability but his bat is also an upgrade over Wellington Castillo who may be moved early on this season. The catch is if David Ross, Opening Day Starter Jon Lester’s former battery mate in Boston, is called upon to catch the lefty Sunday night. If so, Ross, who has a much weaker bat, would be bumped further down the lineup.
Here’s where it gets tricky given the injuries and the versatility of Arismendy Alcantara and Maddon’s penchant for tinkering with batting order. Given his hot spring we’ll give the nod to:
6. LF Matt Szczcur: Batted .348 with 5 home runs and 9 RBI’s in 20 Cactus league games. With injuries to Chris Denorfia and Chris Coghlan, perhaps Maddon will ride the hot hand in giving Szczur a shot.
7. 3B Mike Olt: What a difference a year makes as Olt enters Opening Day as the Cubs starting third basemen for the second straight year. He had an excellent spring and appears to have regained the confidence he lacked throughout last season. Many believe he is just a placeholder until Bryant is called up but if Olt can ride his warm spring into a hot summer perhaps all the time Bryant has spent in the outfield as of late will not be for naught.
8. P Jon Lester: Call it the Maddon Effect but it’s this line of thinking that got him hired in the first place. Maybe he holds off on this for Opening Day but my guess is you will see Jon Lester batting 8th enabling Maddon to squeeze the most out of the top of the order.
9. 2B Arismendy Alcantara: Some view Tommy La Stella as a viable option at second base but for now Alcantara seems like the safer choice for opening day given his versatility and the power he displayed last year slugging 10 home runs in 70 games. The fact that he could be moved around the infield or outfield tells me he will find his way on to this Opening Day roster and will be a vital cog in the Cubs machine as a jack of all trades this year.
So there you have it folks, our guess as to what you will likely see as the Cubs begin the season Sunday night. Agree or disagree, the Cubs have talent and options this year, two things that have been scarce in these parts for the last five years. It will be interesting to watch this take shape as the year unfolds. Here’s to hoping for some consistency, nice surprises, and a fun to watch team that can manufacture some runs.