Even after Friday’s unsightly 9-3 loss to the Nationals in the opener of a three-game series at Wrigley Field, the Cubs are 5-2 since reinserting outfielder Jason Heyward into the leadoff spot and 18-7 overall this season with Heyward at the top of the order.
Is it a no-brainer to just keep him there?
Actually, no, it can’t possibly be seen that way. After an 0-for-3 day, Heyward’s worst numbers are from the leadoff spot: a .167 average and a .254 on-base percentage in 114 plate appearances.
In 145 plate appearances while batting sixth, he’s hitting .280 with a .345 OBP. At seventh in the order (86 plate appearances), he’s .295 and .349. At fifth (86 plate appearances), he’s a robust .343 and .453.
Over the course of his career, his numbers in 700-plus plate appearances from the leadoff spot have brought his overall numbers down a bit.
“Jason Heyward, quietly, has done a wonderful job for us at the top of the batting order,” manager Joe Maddon said.
It’s hard to find that in the numbers above, but Maddon isn’t the only one who sees Heyward as a good fit for leadoff duty.
“They way he’s been going about it, he’s just setting the tone at the top,” said Kyle Schwarber, who has batted leadoff in a team-high 56 games this season. “I feel like the way he’s been squaring up balls, what he’s done consistently throughout the whole year, has been amazing. He stays the same guy all the time, doesn’t change his demeanor if he’s 4-for-4 or 0-for-4, and you need that consistency there.”
Anthony Rizzo is one of 10 Cubs who have led off in 2019.
“[Heyward] is right for anywhere in the lineup,” Rizzo said. “Him leading off means a good at-bat, and what we need is a good at-bat.”
Heyward himself isn’t interested in assessing his leadoff performance.
“All I care about is winning,” he said. “We’re doing well right now, and that’s what matters.”
If there’s a no-brainer, it’s probably this: Heyward’s name on the top line of Maddon’s lineup card won’t last.
“I’ve seen enough here where it works for a couple weeks and then we switch to something else,” Rizzo said. “So you never know.”
The Zobrist factor
A potential answer for the leadoff spot is Ben Zobrist, who certainly has done it before. The 38-year-old switch hitter, who last played in a major-league game May 6 because of personal issues, continues his rehab stint at Class AAA Iowa and should join the big club by the end of the month.
Maddon expects Zobrist to walk in ready to hit, but guaranteeing he’d make a playoff roster is, for now, a bridge too far.
“I don’t know that,” Maddon said. “That’s down the road. I anticipate good from him when he comes here, but you have to go out there and actually do it.”
What’s in a name?
For those who didn’t know, the name that second baseman Tony Kemp is wearing on his MLB Players’ Weekend jersey — “Chieng” — is the maiden name of his wife, Michelle.
As for right fielder Nick Castellanos’ “Artist”?
“It’s because all of us are capable of creating something special in our own way,” he said.