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Cubs leadoff story from Jay to Z(obrist) – with lots of Schwarber

Jon Jay

MESA, Ariz. — For two years, 200 regular-season victories and six rounds of playoffs, the Cubs’ leadoff solution was as easy as “you go, we go.”

But after Dexter Fowler took his .367 on-base percentage and 186 runs scored the last two years to St. Louis, the Cubs for right now are penciling in Kyle Schwarber as the replacement in the leadoff spot.

Former Cardinals outfielder Jon Jay also could be in the mix, manager Joe Maddon said. Ben Zobrist also might get a shot.

“I have no idea,” said Jay, who signed a one-year deal over the winter. He said he’ll be ready for anything.

It’s sure to be one of the more intriguing subplots of the spring.

As the Cubs prepare for their biggest lineup transition in an effort to repeat, Maddon is waiting for the “geeks” in the analytics department to provide some projections for a lineup with the pitcher batting eighth, either Jay or Albert Almora in the No. 9 spot and Schwarber leading off (followed by the Kris Bryant-Anthony Rizzo-Ben Zobrist heart of the order).

But, Maddon said, “I like the idea of Schwarbs.”

He considers that 8-9-1 sequence “theoretically perfect,” anticipating perhaps 140 starts for Schwarber.

Switch-hitting Zobrist is Maddon’s first thought for a leadoff option against a tough left-hander when Schwarber sits, “although Albert really hits lefties well,” Maddon said.

“Things will change. Who knows? Maybe Addison [Russell]’s going to be the guy [against those lefties].”

Stay tuned.

The Cubs’ lineup has enough balance and firepower that it might not make much difference who bats where; or it could be an important piece of this year’s puzzle in the absence of Fowler, whose .393 on-base percentage last year was a major part of the Cubs’ success.

The Cubs had their only slump of the season — three weeks leading up to the All-Star break — when Fowler was on the disabled list.

The “theoretical perfection” is based simply on the best hitters near the top, getting the most plate appearances, Maddon said, and making sure the dangerous Rizzo gets pitches to hit in the third hole — which worked best with Zobrist hitting cleanup last year.

“This is one of those times where I could have a strong feeling or opinion on it,” Maddon said, before alluding to the analytics again. “I need more to really try to make a better decision with it, and I think I’ll just wait and listen right now.”

Schwarber, still working on staying healthy for a full season in the majors, has a .386 on-base percentage in 85 games, which includes the playoffs. Maddon wants Schwarber to keep his same approach when he’s in the top spot of the lineup.

“His DNA is to see pitches, accept walks, work good at-bats,” Maddon said. “I will have a conversation with him, and it will be about, ‘please do not change anything, just go up there and hit.’ ”

Jay, 32, has 809 career plate appearances as a lead-off hitter, second for him in any spot in the order. He has 1,056 appearances in the No. 2 spot.

“The good thing on this team is guys can hit anywhere in the lineup,” Jay said.

“We have a real deep lineup, and whoever’s not playing that day we have a deep bench. Those are signs of a good team, and that’s what it takes to play in October and to win the championship we saw last year.

“You’re going to have opportunities to drive in runs whether you’re hitting early in the lineup, late in the lineup, or to score runs, or whatever the case may be. It’s a deep lineup and it’s great to be a part of it.”

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Email: gwittenmyer@suntimes.com