With Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo batting 1-2 for Cubs, what’s next-generation Bryzzo at 3-4?

“It gives me chills,” catcher Willson Contreras said of the possibilities for the Cubs’ lineup with a dynamic, power/on-base duo in the first two spots.

SHARE With Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo batting 1-2 for Cubs, what’s next-generation Bryzzo at 3-4?
Javy Baez led the league in RBIs in 2018 and had a 1.069 OPS with men in scoring position last year.

Javy Baez led the league in RBIs in 2018 and had a 1.069 OPS with men in scoring position last year.

John Antonoff photo

MESA, Ariz. — Among the effects of moving Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo up one spot each to 1-2 in the Cubs’ lineup is the ascension of some combination of Javy Baez, Kyle Schwarber and Willson Contreras to the premier, 3-4 run-producing spots.

“It gives me chills,” said Contreras, the National League’s starting All-Star catcher the last two seasons. “It gives me chills for sure, thinking of KB hitting a double and Rizzo getting an RBI early in the [inning] . . . or drawing a walk. And then I don’t’ know if it’s Javy or Schwarber or somebody else coming in, getting the RBI.”

It’s almost as if Contreras looked at Bryant’s statistical splits. Since the Cubs’ last successful leadoff hitter, Dexter Fowler, left after 2016, Bryant has more plate appearances than any Cub leading off an inning when not the game’s leadoff hitter (1,000).

He also leads the team in on-base percentage (.386), OPS (.897) and doubles (59) in all the appearances leading off an inning during that three-year span.

“I love hitting behind Kris,” said Rizzo, who pointed out that has been his regular role the last five years anyway, whether they batted 2-3 or 3-4. “Being able to protect him and then be protected by Javy and Schwarber, Contreras or however it lines up, it’s exciting.”

The Cubs have used 17 different leadoff hitters since Fowler left, including Rizzo for 57 games over the three years and Bryant for seven games in 2018, with mixed results at best. Last year, they were last in the majors in hitting and on-base percentage from the leadoff spot.

By the time new manager David Ross’ unveiling of the 1-2 plan Wednesday was 18 hours old, it was the talk of the clubhouse Thursday morning — with consensus support.

So if it’s such an obviously great idea, what took so long? And what are the downsides?

“The downside is you have two power hitters. It’s not your old-school mentality anymore,” Rizzo said. “If you ask Kris or me, prototypically we’d want to hit third and fourth, with [the 1-2] guys getting on base first. Now we get to set the tone. Hopefully, we can get on so guys behind us can have monster production as well.”

So does that make some combination of Baez, Schwarber and Contreras the next generation of Bryzzo in the middle of the Cubs’ order?

“It probably does,” said Contreras with a smile. “That makes me happy to think about that.”

Why not? Contreras was 26-for-93 (.280) with an .868 OPS with men in scoring position last year — a relative anomaly on that team.

Baez, the likely No. 3 hitter, was even better: 38-for-114 (.333) with a 1.069 OPS. Schwarber: 24-for-103 (.233) but with 20 walks and an .880 OPS.

“It might be me behind Javy or might be Schwarber behind Javy,” Contreras said. “It makes me happy the way the lineup is going to look. I know we’re making adjustments to make our approach better every single day, and I know we’re going to do better with men in scoring position.”

Ross undecided on batting pitcher 8th

Ross said he’s still weighing his options for the end of his lineup, including whether to bat the pitcher eighth instead of ninth now that he has a radically new look in the top two spots.

“That’s still a thought,” he said. “It makes sense in some context, right? Like if you’re trying to get somebody on base in front of KB. There’s a lot that goes into that. But I’ve also seen that eight hole come up in the first inning with a big rally going and it can kill it.”

Taking the fifth?

Three of the most prominent candidates for the No. 5 spot in the rotation are starting the first three games of the Cactus League schedule for the Cubs, including right-hander Alec Mills in the exhibition opener Saturday against the Athletics at home.

Front-runner Tyler Chatwood starts Sunday against the Dodgers in Glendale, Arizona, and rookie Adbert Alzolay goes Monday against the Mariners in Peoria, Arizona.

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