Less Focus On Development Now In Cubs' Lineups

"It's easier," Joe Maddon says of filling out his lineups this season.

Chris Emma
May 24, 2019 - 12:57 pm
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CHICAGO (670 The Score) -- Throughout the Cubs' window of contention in the last several years, manager Joe Maddon has faced a delicate balance in forming a lineup each day.

In filling out his starting nine, Maddon has had to juggle the Cubs' desire to win each game with their need to develop young talents as well. The dynamic has changed a bit in 2019, with the organization accepting players for what they are and prioritizing winning above all.

That starts with the lineup cards Maddon makes before each series.

"It's easier," Maddon said. "I mean, even for the guys who are here, they know they're going to play more often because they know there's one less guy to be involved with that."

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That guy has been outfielder Mark Zagunis, who has only 39 plate appearances in the team's 48 games. Zagunis made the Opening Day roster in place of Ian Happ, who was sent to Triple-A Iowa after prolonged struggled and with the intention of providing him the regular playing time that he wasn't going to receive in Chicago.

Zagunis has started only six games in 2019.

"Zagunis at this point is not there yet because (Albert Almora Jr.) is right-handed, he's right-handed," Maddon said. "You don't feel that same need. I give him a lot of credit, and I've told him so, the way he's stayed ready for those opportunities so infrequently.

"I don't feel he's part of this rotation right yet, but he will be at some point. Last year was different with Happ being here and really trying to get him involved. Getting all those plate appearances for those guys last year was not easy."

Maddon and the Cubs have deployed the 11 other position players they believe offer the best chance to win. In the past, it was a priority to share plate appearances between Almora, Happ, Kyle Schwarber, Jason Heyward and Ben Zobrist. No longer is that the case. Schwarber is 26, Almora is 25 and Happ is 24, and their respective roles have been earned instead of forced with respect to development.

The lone exception to this has been with infielder Addison Russell, whom the Cubs tendered a contract in the offseason as he still had to serve the remainder of a 40-game domestic violence suspension to open this season. While he's struggling with a .212 batting average and .611 OPS, Russell is a player the Cubs believe they can return to his All-Star form of 2016, and the only way that can happen is with playing time.

Maddon has three second basemen to rotate in Russell, David Bote and Daniel Descalso. It's Descalso starting at second base as the Cubs host the Reds in their series opener at Wrigley Field on Friday.

"Daniel just hasn't hit his stride at the plate, but he will," Maddon said. "Daniel is a really good hitter, it just hasn't shown up yet. We're still working Addison back in. He showed some really good at-bats to this point. Defense looks great. And Bote back and forth between third and second. All good."

The Cubs have maintained a rhythm to their lineup since Zobrist took a leave of absence from the team on May 8 to deal with a personal matter. Maddon has utilized Schwarber and his .347 on-base percentage in the leadoff spot, followed by Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo.

That's how Maddon will line up his Cubs as they face the Reds on Friday, with their full focus on earning a win.

Chris Emma covers the Bears, Chicago’s sports scene and more for 670TheScore.com. Follow him on Twitter @CEmma670.