Kyle Schwarber wasn’t in the starting lineup for the Cubs’ opener Thursday against the Rangers.
He got in the game anyway, went 1-for-3 (a double) and the Cubs won 12-4.
All good, right?
Not from reading some of the comments about Schwarber’s not being in the lineup on Day 1. You’d think the world had ended, or the Cubs’ season had ended in disaster (after one game), or Cubs management had suddenly gotten stupid.
I assure you none of the above is true regarding Schwarber spending half of one game on the bench. But if you don’t believe me, maybe you’ll believe Theo Epstein:
“Everyone understands they’re part of a deep roster and they play for a manager who likes to find the best possible matchups on a daily basis and prioritizes that over an everyday lineup,” President Theo Epstein said. “In an honest moment, I think everyone would admit that gives us the best chance to win with the lineups and with the depth over the course of a season.”
This is exactly right. Virtually no team has a “set lineup” the way the Cubs used to in the late 1960s, with the Kessinger-Beckert-Williams-Santo-Banks first five pretty much etched in stone. With short benches these days, teams need to find versatile players who can play multiple positions and who can start when needed, and others who understand that sitting every once in a while doesn’t mean anything but 1) rest and 2) getting other guys playing time:
Maddon already made one bold move Thursday by starting Mark Zagunis, who had only 19 major-league at-bats, over Kyle Schwarber in left field. But Maddon’s rationale was that Zagunis might fare better against Rangers left-hander Mike Minor, and the move paid off as Zagunis hit a tiebreaking double during a six-run fifth-inning rally.
“It’s something we’ve been trying to hammer home this offseason, and now is the buy-in from the whole group,” Maddon said. “And some days it’s going to be somebody else. The conversations have been very transparent and everyone is on board, so it was a very easy exchange between me and (Schwarber).”
Let me ask you this question. If Schwarber had (for example) not started in (say) this coming Monday’s game in Atlanta against lefty Sean Newcomb, would you have said a word? I’m guessing not. Seems that maybe the “sitting on Opening Day” meme got more credibility than it deserves.
It’s one game. I can almost guarantee you that by the end of the season, Kyle Schwarber will start more than the 121 games he started last year. And some of those will be against lefthanders. Every one of Joe’s lineups, to me, has a specific reason for it and, as both Maddon and Epstein stated, everyone on the team is on board with this idea.
Joe Maddon has mixed-and-matched his lineups for four full seasons as Cubs manager. Over that time the Cubs have made the postseason each time and averaged 97 wins over that span.
I think he knows what he’s doing.