The horrifying ankle injury suffered by Anthony Rizzo Sunday not only took one of the Cubs’ best players and the heart and soul of the team out for an indefinite period, but it also took away one of Joe Maddon’s best recent moves — the shift of Rizzo to the leadoff spot.
And yes, it matters. Not just because Rizzo hit .417/.563/.667 (5-for-12) from that spot with a home run and three walks in the four games since he was moved there again (and the Cubs won all four games), but because Rizzo almost always gives a quality at-bat, works counts, and sets a good tone for the rest of the lineup.
Now, the Cubs will have to find someone else, or multiple someone elses, to take that role for a while.
The description above also fits Kris Bryant. But KB apparently doesn’t feel comfortable in that spot, and the last thing Joe should do is put someone there who can’t do it. Jason Heyward is one of those players — J-Hey hit .147/.252/.302 (19-for-129) batting leadoff in 32 games this year, and as soon as he was moved back down in the order for good September 3, he started hitting again: .343/.452/.686 (12-for-35) over his last 11 games with three doubles, three home runs and seven walks.
It probably shouldn’t matter, but for whatever reason, it does.
The best choice for right now is probably Ben Zobrist. For one thing, look at the praise heaped on Zobrist from a Cubs opponent last week:
Brewers pitcher Chase Anderson, on the Cubs’ lineup and Ben Zobrist’s impact on it... pic.twitter.com/0auI8QjYVe— Jordan Bastian (@MLBastian) September 6, 2019
Since his return from the restricted list, Zobrist is hitting .367/.441/.533 (11-for-30) with two doubles, a home run and four walks. For the record, that’s three more extra-base hits than he had the entire time before he went on the list.
But Zobrist can’t play every day. I suspect he will be playing more now than before Rizzo’s injury, partly out of necessity but partly because he’s now got 10 games under his belt since returning and probably feels more ready to contribute full-time.
When Zobrist isn’t playing, the best choice might be, oddly enough, Willson Contreras. Contreras has led off just once this year, July 26 vs. Milwaukee, and went 0-for-4. But he might provide a jolt at the top of the lineup, perhaps even a leadoff homer. Obviously, you wouldn’t want to do this every day, and Zobrist might provide the best answer.
Players I do not want to see leading off for the Cubs ever again: Albert Almora Jr. and Tony Kemp. Both have talent and abilities in certain facets of the game. Leading off the lineup isn’t one of them.
You’re going to ask about Nico Hoerner, aren’t you. That would be... unconventional, to be sure, and Joe Maddon often does “unconventional.” Nico generally batted second for Double-A Tennessee and so far in his seven-game big-league career he’s hit sixth twice, eighth five times.
Could he do it? I’m sure he’d give it the 100 percent effort he appears to give every aspect of his game. Maybe it’s not the right time or place to try this with him, though.
“Listen, from the fan’s perspective, it is what it is,” Maddon said. “You’re going to be devastated by that. We are too, to a certain extent. Then you gotta move it forward, man. We’re missing Javy right now, we were missing (Willson) Contreras for a large part of the season, KB’s been in and out and (Ben) Zobrist was not even here. We’re used to this in a sense. The depth has gotta pick us up. I gotta figure out (Monday’s) lineup.”
He does indeed. I’m reasonably certain we’ll see Zobrist at the top of Monday’s lineup and in several in the future. Or perhaps Joe has a surprise up his sleeve. We’ll find out soon.
Who should be the Cubs’ primary leadoff hitter while Anthony Rizzo is out?
This poll is closed
Kris Bryant (even though he doesn’t want to)
Someone else (leave in comments)