David Ross is pumped about Cubs’ new-look lineup
The Cubs made a flurry of roster moves Tuesday and their lineup instantly looks deeper and more dynamic as they gear up for the final four weeks of the regular season.
They activated Kris Bryant and Steven Souza Jr. from the 10-day injured list, put Tyler Chatwood (forearm strain) on the shelf, designated Casey Sadler for assignment, moved Albert Almora Jr. to the alternate site in South Bend and added their three new trade additions — José Martínez, Josh Osich, Cameron Maybin — to the roster.
Bryant and Martínez were immediately inserted into the starting lineup, while Maybin and Souza lend their veteran experience to the bench.
The four new bats provide a lift to this lineup and has manager David Ross excited about the offensive potential for the stretch run.
“I was making out the lineup and you find out those guys are gonna be back, you start plugging names in and it just gets really deep in the lineup,” Ross said. “Especially with the additions of José and Cam, we got some really good options, some guys that are here to help out.
“But yeah, getting KB back and plugging him in at the 2-hole, starts knocking everybody down, it just gets really deep. You start talking about [Jason Heyward] and Willson [Contreras] getting further down there, it makes it tough on the opposing team.”
Here was Ross’ new-look lineup for the opener in Pittsburgh Tuesday night:
1. Ian Happ – CF
2. Kris Bryant – 3B
3. Anthony Rizzo – 1B
4. Javy Báez – SS
5. Kyle Schwarber – LF
6. Willson Contreras – C
7. Jason Heyward – RF
8. José Martínez – DH
9. Jason Kipnis – 2B
Bryant is essentially a trade deadline acquisition in his own right, returning to the lineup after more than two weeks off to tend to his ailing left wrist/finger.
He told Ross he’s ready to go and feeling good and the Cubs were impressed with Bryant’s final batting practice tune-up Monday in South Bend.
When he’s been on the field this year, Bryant has not looked like his normal self with a .177 batting average and .594 OPS in 70 plate appearances. But with Happ’s emergence in the leadoff spot over the last couple of weeks, it allows Bryant to move back down to the 2-hole, where he’s spent most of his career and feels comfortable.
It’s all subject to change, but Ross likes the look of Tuesday’s lineup and plans to keep Happ leading off and Bryant following for now.
“It is a fluid situation, but Happer’s done a good job at the top,” Ross said. “I think putting KB back in the 2-hole where he’s used to being and sliding everybody down one really lengthens the lineup. There may be some instances where I mix it up, but right now, I’m gonna ride that for a little bit, see how that goes and continue to show confidence in Ian.
“He’s done a really good job of me moving him around really from 9 to 6 or 7 and to the top. He’s done phenomenal in every spot that I’ve moved him — the at-bats have stayed the same. The way he’s attacked the baseball, the quality of the at-bat continues to stand out to me.
“That’s always been in the back of my mind whenever he started getting back to who we thought he was – who he thought he was — that was the ultimate goal is to move him back to the top. He’s there, done a really good job and we’ll continue to monitor that. But right now, he’ll be in the leadoff spot.”
Happ currently leads the Cubs in most offensive categories, including on-base percentage (.417) and OPS (1.041).
Martínez was brought over first and foremost for his ability to crush left-handed pitching (career .946 OPS vs. southpaws), but he also adds another professional at-bat to the lineup against righties. He has a career .361 on-base percentage and hit .306 with above-average strikeout rates while seeing regular playing time with the Cardinals in 2017-18.
Martínez said he didn’t even worry about talking with Ross or the Cubs front office about where they see him fitting into the puzzle on this roster.
“I’m happy just to be here playing in this organization,” he said. “I think for me, I’m just going to go out there and do my best in whatever situation. I’m here to try to help this team win.”
Maybin is another veteran who can help change the complexion of the Cubs’ depth. He has a career .362 OBP and .758 OPS when coming off the bench and has more than 1,100 big-league games under his belt.
He impressed his new manager in a conversation last year in New York when Ross was broadcasting a Yankees game for ESPN.
“There comes a point in every player’s career where the talent matches up with the mentality and what you’ve learned and how to go about your business,” Ross said. “I think Cam has really come in to that kind of area of his career the last few years and I think he’s very comfortable in anything we’ve asked — the conversations I’ve had with him. He just wants to help out and contribute in any way possible. Any scenario, he’s ready for.
“There will be multiple different ways to use him from my standpoint and it’s nice to be able to pull a guy that’s come off the bench before and had success and knows that role. That’s a very difficult role that I understand how it is from being a bench player and I didn’t have to come up and hit too often. He’s had some success in that area and we’ll rely heavily on him in that realm.”
On top of their production, Ross is also thrilled about the quality of character both Maybin and Martínez bring to the clubhouse and anticipates they will fit in well on a Cubs roster that has been through a lot together in this strange year.
“We’ve got two guys from an offensive standpoint that have really good reputations about who they are in the room and how they affect other players,” Ross said. “That’s nice. That’s something you don’t have to worry about – bringing in an outside [guy] in such a tight-knit group.”