Darvish, Cishek and Strop eying Rangers series
- Yu Darvish will throw in a Minor League game on Sunday in order to stay on track for his first regular season start
- Pedro Strop is on schedule for a final spring tune up early in the week and if all goes well, he should begin the year in the Chicago bullpen
- Steve Cishek has been out all week due to illness but is scheduled for an appearance tonight so his status for Opening Day looks secure
Kintzler, Chatwood appear to solidify bullpen spots
Spring results don't mean much. We know this. But contracts do. Tyler Chatwood, despite a couple of instances where control issues cropped back up, has been pretty solid in a relief capacity this spring so given he still has two years and many millions of dollars on his contract is absolutely going to make the Cubs roster. Brandon Kintzler entered the spring in a more precarious roster situation with just one year and $5M owed to him, but after limiting walks and missing a few bats this spring, I think he has done enough where the Cubs will give him a shot in the regular season. I do believe he will need to get off to a strong start in order to keep it, as not only do the Cubs have a few youngsters throwing well (Dillon Maples, James Norwood, Dakota Mekkes), but a couple of veteran options (Allen Webster, Junichi Tazawa) have emerged as candidates to replace him as well. Plus, the return of Brandon Morrow in May will displace someone.
The biggest question to me remains Brian Duensing. His numbers aren't great, and I haven't seen any glowing reports about his stuff during the spring. He may be owed $3.5M but if the Cubs are going to give a newcomer a chance it is most likely to come in this spot. Ideally, Duensing would be replaced by another lefty (Ryan, Rosario) but I can see the team instead going with a reverse-split righty (Tazawa), or chuck platoon considerations out the window and going with a power arm (Webster, Maples, Norwood). Without Morrow, and with C.J. Edwards continued struggles for consistency, the Cubs bullpen currently lacks arms capable of hitting 95+ on the radar gun. A power arm has matchup uses just as often as a second lefty.
Descalso playing catch up
I mentioned it the other day, but expect Daniel Descalso's name to show up in a bunch of AZ Phil's box scores from Minor League camp over the next few days in an effort to squeeze in as many plate appearances as possible against live pitching before Thursday.
Heart of the order set
It certainly looks like Joe Maddon intends to hit Kris Bryant-Anthony Rizzo-Javier Baez in the 2-3-4 spots in the order on an everyday basis. Bryant will undoubtedly move out to the outfield on occasion, but his bat will remain a steady presence in the lineup. On the days Willson Contreras is behind the plate I would expect him to hit in the 6th spot.
The rest of the order will be matchup driven. Albert Almora, Ian Happ, Ben Zobrist and Descalso will likely all factor in to the leadoff spot. If Almora carries over his strong spring into the regular season he could earn the majority of the looks, but I already anticipate receiving the same number of angry tweets and comments complaining about Joe not just giving Almora the everyday job that I did in the first half of last season.
Kyle Schwarber could receive the opportunity to be the everyday guy in left field and in the 5th spot in the order, but he'll need to prove his new two strike approach and ability to hit left-handed pitching once the games begin counting to keep a hold of it. Against lefties, I expect David Bote gets some reps in the 5 hole, at least until Addison Russell returns in May, which could force Bote to the Minors if injuries don't open another roster spot. Zo and Descalso likely get some looks in the five spot as well.
The final two slots in the lineup will end up being whatever combo of Jason Heyward, Bote, Happ, Descalso and Victor Caratini is playing on any given day. Matchups will dictate all decisions when health is not a factor. Just like with every Almora decision, I can already envision the tweets/comments so let me just state something right now: Every lineup decision has a purpose and the Cubs do not believe in simply riding the hot hand. They believe in putting guys in the best position to succeed as possible.
Sometimes that means sitting them against a pitcher capable of exploiting their weakness. That even means going against strict platoon matchups and instead delves into how well a batter fares against a certain type of pitch the hurler for that day relies upon. Other times offense is thrown out the window and defense wins the day. There are times when there are no good offensive matchups or the weather conditions favor the pitcher so much that defense becomes more vital. So prepare yourself for Jason Heyward playing.
I can't always sniff out the reasoning behind each of Maddon's lineup decisions, but I can assure you, he does have his reasons. Every time.