Welcome to March. Soon, the Madness will be underway and the slog through spring training to get to the regular season won’t be so awful. But until then, we’re left to talk about Joe Maddon’s rotation order (as if it really matters), Kyle Schwarber’s weight loss, and whether or not Ian Happ is going to bat at the top of the order. Let’s do this.
• Maddon announced recently that Kyle Hendricks would follow Jon Lester’s Opening Day start, after which Yu Darvish, Jose Quintana, and Jake Arrieta Tyler Chatwood would round things out. If we wanted to quibble, and you know I always do, I’d say it’s better to switch Quintana and Darvish to keep the left-right-left-right thing going. But that’s really just picking nits.
This rotation has as much talent as any Cubs group since 2004, when they infamously added Greg Maddux to their talented top four of Mark Prior, Kerry Wood, Carlos Zambrano, and Matt Clement. It didn’t exactly work out for the Cubs that year, but who knows what the 2018 team has in store for us.
Even through the excitement, questions remain. Darvish has yet to fully regain his form following Tommy John surgery. In fact, 2017 was statistically his worst season, as it was for Lester (at least in a Cubs uniform) and Quintana. The assumption that simply getting Chatwood away from Coors Field will fix all his woes is almost certainly false. Don’t let all of that get you down, though. This is a very good collection of pitchers.
• I welcomed Evan Altman to my Cubs podcast, Locked On Cubs (insert shameless plug here), earlier this week to talk baseball, and one thing we kept coming back to was Schwarber and his weight loss. There appears to be a thought process among some fans that losing a bunch of weight might sap his power, and nothing could be more ridiculous.
That is, of course, assuming that Schwarber didn’t lose his weight by doing a juice cleanse and lying in bed all winter. But so long as he took care of his muscles and really did just trim down the excess fat, there should be no problem in the power category for Schwarbs.
The true question is how he has improved at the plate, which was a much bigger problem for the Cubs left fielder last season than his beer belly. It’s far too early in spring training to make any judgments, but the two singles and two stolen bases he had in one early game are a positive sign. Additionally, we may want to officially petition to change his nickname from “Hulk” to “Banner,” which has nice double-entendre possibilities
• Finally, will Ian Happ be the leadoff man? Sorry to cop out here, but it’s too early to know what’s going on in Maddon’s mind. The biggest clue I could give is to look at Maddon’s words, not necessarily what he’s doing with the lineup on a given day.
“I’m very comfortable with moving that around based on guys who get on base often,” Maddon said earlier this spring. “That’s the whole point. And when you can combine that with a guy that has a high on-base and then he hits homers, too, that’s even more attractive. We have a lot of guys who are capable. We’ll let it play out, you’ll see a lot of guys in the one hole throughout spring training. But I know by the time the season arrives, whoever we have hitting there, I’ll be happy with that.”
The added emphasis was mine, but you can see where Maddon is leaning here. Among the most talked about leadoff candidates – Jason Heyward, Albert Almora Jr., Ben Zobrist, Schwarber, and Happ – the two that fit that description are Schwarber and Happ. They may be splitting the job in April, depending on the pitcher the Cubs are facing on a given day.