COMMENTARY | More of the same, you say? It could be so with results this year, but don't say changes haven't been made.
The Chicago Cubs' opening-day lineup will have three carryovers in the same positions as last year's opener--shortstop Starlin Castro, left fielder Alfonso Soriano and second baseman Darwin Barney. It's the fewest since 2003, when the Cubs got Bartman-ed out of the NLCS. Even if you add to this list David DeJesus, who started the 2012 opener in right field rather than center, it's the fewest since 2005.
With all its question marks, one thing is certain. Production is going to have to be top-heavy with the first four spots in the order doing an inordinate amount of the damage.
1. David DeJesus, CF
As far as names to take your team's first at-bat of the season go, DeJesus might not roll right off many tongues, but the splits support his case. His .358 on-base percentage in 448 at-bats from the top of the order in 2012 make this an easy decision for Cubs manager Dale Sveum. His defensive range as a by-default center field is another story.
2. Starlin Castro, SS
It's hard to be thrilled with Castro being taken out of an RBI spot in the order, but that's what's going to happen to start the season, according to Sveum. I'd rather see Castro third, bumping Rizzo and Soriano to Nos. 4 and 5, but the next logical No. 2 hitter, Darwin Barney, hit .214 in the No. 2 spot last year.
3. Anthony Rizzo, 1B
The expectations went up last year when Rizzo joined Castro as a co-face of the future, and at 23, they have a chance to become Chicago's baseball version of Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane. Too bad the Cubs aren't going to go unbeaten in regulation for their first 24 games like the Blackhawks did this year.
4. Alfonso Soriano, LF
The majority of Cubs fans might not admit it, but there are worse cleanup options across baseball. As I pointed out March 25, Soriano was one of four National League players to hit 30 home runs and drive in 100 runs last year.
5. Nate Schierholtz, RF
The Cubs are going to face a righty on opening day, which means it's likely Schierholtz will get the start in this right-field platoon. I'd like to see Scott Hairston in the lineup. His average suffered some last year against righties (.239 vs. .286 against lefties), but nine of his 20 home runs came against righties. Schierholtz has had the better spring and a better career OBP against righties, but his career average is actually better against lefties. Hairston brings some right-handed pop to the lineup, and worrying about the on-base percentage of the No. 5 spot in this lineup is overrated when the three guys likely to bat behind it have collectively hit .212 this spring.
6. Welington Castillo, C
He's going to be the starter on April 1, but that doesn't necessarily mean the job is his for the long term. Switch-hitting backup Dioner Navarro has had an impressive spring while Castillo has struggled at the plate. To further muddy the situation, Steve Clevenger is batting .404 this spring.
7. Darwin Barney, 2B
Though not known for hit bat, the 2012 Gold Glove second baseman doesn't exactly embarrass himself at the plate. He's a career .263 hitter, and the bulk of his success comes when he bats seventh or eighth.
8. Luis Valbuena, 3B
Third base is the biggest hole in the Cubs' lineup, and though Valbuena's numbers really fell off in the second half of March, Cubs fans will be happy with Sveum penciling in any name other than Ian Stewart, who isn't healthy anyway. If Clevenger continues to hit, look for him to earn time at third.
9. Jeff Samardzija, P
As I stated March 20, I don't think it matters whether Matt Garza is healthy or not. Samardzija earned this opening-day start with a three-month stretch to end last year that got a lot of people's attention. And if he keeps hitting home runs like he has this spring, he might help his cause at the plate more than other guys in the bottom half of this lineup.
Kevin Chroust has covered baseball and various other sports since graduating from Colorado State in 2005. He has been following the Cubs since age six when Mark Grace hit .647 in the NLCS against the San Francisco Giants. You can follow Kevin on Twitter @kevinchroust.
- Sports & Recreation
- Alfonso Soriano
- Chicago Cubs
- Starlin Castro
- Darwin Barney
- David DeJesus
- Anthony Rizzo