Ultimate Cubs Lineup

Ultimate Cubs Lineup: Marquee staff edition

2 years agoTony Andracki

What if you were tasked with winning one — and only one — baseball game and you were responsible for putting together the lineup to get you that W?

Here’s the thing: You can only form the lineup from guys who have suited up for the Cubs, even if it was for only one game or part of one season. This isn’t a list of the greatest Cubs players. It’s the Ultimate Cubs Lineup to win one big game.

That means you can select Mordecai “Three Finger” Brown (who pitched for the Cubs from 1904-1912 and again in 1916) or Anthony Rizzo (who led the Cubs to end the 108-year World Series drought).

You can choose Hall of Famers, All-Stars, role players, whoever. You can prioritize power, contact, defense, intangibles or whatever you think is necessary to win this one imaginary game. You can even hit the pitcher 8th or anywhere you see fit in the lineup.

Since the Cubs are a National League team, we are forming the roster with no designated hitter. To add another wrinkle of strategy, you can select one reliever to come in after the starting pitcher and one player off the bench who could come into the game at any point.

So which 11 current or former Cubs would you choose to go to battle with in a must-win game?

Marquee Sports Network staff weighed in:

Social media coordinator Kyle Millinowisch

1. Dexter Fowler – CF
2. Kris Bryant – 3B
3. Mark Grace – 1B
4. Sammy Sosa – RF
5. Billy Williams – LF
6. Ernie Banks – SS
7. Ryne Sandberg – 2B
8. Willson Contreras – C
9. Jake Arrieta – P

Reliever: Aroldis Chapman
Bench: Tony Campana

Millinowisch’s rationale

My lineup revolves around one person, Jake Arrieta. The other positions don’t matter.

Arrieta Image

I could start Neifi Perez, Jose Macias and Paul Bako, and I’d still win. 2015 Jake was going to tell you he was going to shove it down your throat, then go out there and shove it down your throat (s/o Pittsburgh). Good luck getting a hit of him. Cubs in 4′ this lineup doesn’t lose.

 

Willson Contreras featured

Coordinating producer Nick Steger

1. Kenny Lofton – CF
2. Ernie Banks – SS
3. Mark Grace – 1B
4. Sammy Sosa – RF
5. Billy Williams – LF
6. Ron Santo – 3B
7. Javy Báez – 2B
8. Willson Contreras – C
9. Mark Prior (2003) – SP

Reliever: Aroldis Chapman
Bench: Rogers Hornsby (out of respect for the legend)

Steger’s rationale

I wanted a starting pitcher with power and wipeout stuff for this game. Prior has that (10.4 K/9, 5:1 K:BB ratio).

I struggled between Prior and Greg Maddux, but their peak seasons in a Cubs uniform helped me make the decision:

Prior 2003 vs Maddux 1992 (Cy Young season w/Cubs)

Prior – 211 IP, 2.43 ERA, 245 K, 50 BB, 1.10 WHIP, 10.4 K/9, 5:1 K:BB ratio, 179 ERA+
Maddux – 268 IP, 2.18 ERA, 199 K, 70 BB, 1.01 WHIP, 6.7 K/9, 2.8:1 K:BB ratio, 166 ERA+

Prior’s 2003 came in the middle of the PED era and was his age-22 season while Maddux’s 1992 campaign had the benefit of an expanded strike zone a foot outside.

In Maddux’s age-22 season, he posted a 3.18 ERA, 140 Ks vs. 81 BBs and had a 114 ERA+.

Basically, Prior struck out 46 more hitters in 57 less innings than Maddux’s Cy Young year with the Cubs while still limiting walks and baserunners at a time where the strike zone wasn’t expanded and everyone was juiced.

Lastly, Prior still had lights out/dominant stuff in the postseason. Maddux had a losing record in the postseason (11-14) with a much greater sample size (obviously).

Lofton had the speed and defensive acumen and also the knack for a big game – 13 Runs, 9 SBs in 13 World Series contests.

I was hesitant on Contreras, but the energy, howitzer of an arm and pop ability make him tough to skip over for a guy like Gabby Hartnett that I never saw play.

One thing I do know: there is a good chance that any of the old-time players (that a lot of people have picked) get overmatched by today’s power/athletic ability in a one game scenario…but, you can’t say that for the more recent guys who played in eras with everyone throwing 100+ mph and the speed of the game being so much faster. I like my chances.

I hate not having Kris Bryant. I wish we could have a DH because then I could put Banks at DH and move Báez SS and Ryne Sandberg to 2B.

I added Hornsby as my bench guy out of respect for the legend.

Bryant Rizzo Cubs

Digital content manager Scott Changnon

1. Dexter Fowler – CF
2. Ryne Sandberg – 2B
3. Kris Bryant – 3B
4. Sammy Sosa – RF
5. Anthony Rizzo – 1B
6. Ernie Banks – SS
7. Billy Williams – LF
8. Kyle Schwarber – C
9. Jake Arrieta – SP

Reliever: Mitch Williams
Bench: Nomar Garciaparra

Changnon’s rationale

You go, we go! What I’d give to have Dexter back with the Cubs as an everyday leadoff man. I’ll never forget his leadoff home run of Game 7 of the World Series and the energy he always brought at the plate and in the field.

Although I never got to watch him play in person, Ryno was one of the first Cubs players I can remember watching on a regular basis when I would come home from school and turn on WGN. In my professional career covering the Cubs, I’ve produced so many videos reflecting back on his playing days and the numbers speak for themselves – 1984 MVP, 9 straight Gold Gloves and 10 straight All-Star appearances. Enough said.

Bryant’s resume: Rookie of the Year, 3-time All-Star, 2016 MVP and World Series Champion. I mean come on! Who wouldn’t want KB on their winner-take-all team?

Growing up in a basketball and football household I never played baseball. If it wasn’t for Sammy Sosa and the summer of ’98, I don’t know if I would be as big of a Cubs fan or baseball fan as I am today.

With Rizzo, talk about a gutsy player who will do everything in his power to win. All I have to do is point to September of 2019 when he suited up vs. the Cardinals in a race to make the playoffs after suffering a high ankle sprain just days before. I was in the car, listening to Pat Hughes call his home run during that game and I’ll never forget it.

Let’s play two! I never got to see Banks play but after watching the documentary “More than Mr. Cub: The Life of Ernie Banks” on Marquee Sports Network my second week on the job, how could you deny Mr. Cub in your lineup?

Sweet swingin’ Billy Williams brings a left handed bat to my lineup and solid defense in left field. Like Banks, it’s hard not to keep the Hall of Famer out of my lineup.

It’s just one game right? Why not put Schwarbs behind the plate? Having that bat in this already-stacked lineup has to give me an advantage.

Covering Arrieta in 2015 was something special. I can remember producing video after video and his numbers would just get better and better. His dominant Wild-Card performance in Pittsburgh was unforgettable and his dominance in the 2016 World Series gives me all the confidence that he could come out on top for me in a must-win game.

I thought about slotting Aroldis Chapman in the reliever spot, but wanted to see other options at my disposal. After some research, I read about “Wild Thing” Mitch Williams and immediately thought of the movie “Major League,” one of my favorite baseball movies. That’s the kind of guy I want closing out my must-win game.

I gotta say Garciaparra’s name with a thick Boston accent: “Nomahhhh!” Although he only played 105 games in a Cubs uniform, I always loved watching him during his career and he’s the kind of guy I want to come off the bench in a big situation.

Henry Rowengartner

Graphic designer Brandon Fishman

1. Kosuke Fukedome – RF
2. Kiki Cuyler – LF
3. Nomar Garciaparra – SS
4. Hack Wilson – CF
5. Mark Grudzielanek – 2B
6. Hee-Seop Choi – 1B
7. Darwin Barney – 3B
8. Bubbles Hargrave – C
9. Mordecai “Three Finger” Brown – P

Reliever: Henry Rowengartner
Bench: Matt Murton

Fishman’s rationale

Some teams are built on big bats and power pitching. Others rely on speed and defense. My Cubs Ultimate Lineup takes a different approach — it’s ALL about the names.

With the elite outfield trio of Mr. April (Kosuke Fukedome), Hack Wilson and Kiki Cuyler spearheading the top of the order, this offense is sure to manufacture some runs.

A defense headlined by Gold Glove winners Mark Grudzielanek and Darwin Barney will definitely keep this Murderers’ Row of human spelling errors and rhymes in every game.

And don’t sleep on closer Henry Rowengartner. This kid — a former “Rookie of the Year” — has a cannon for an arm and an elite 12-6 off-speed pitch that will leave opposing batters in tears at the plate.

I just kind of wanted Matt Murton off the bench. That’s my guy and I had some fun with it.

Sld Javy Mothers Day Walk Off Hr

Segment producer Chris Antonacci

The history of the Cubs’ franchise dates to 1876. Seventeen Hall of Fame players spent the majority of their careers with the Cubs. With so much history, choosing an Ultimate Lineup of Cubs is a challenge, even if it is to only win one game.

There’s so many decisions to make…

How does one choose between Sammy Sosa and Andre Dawson in right field?

How can Kris Bryant be compared against Ron Santo with respect to sample size?

Should Ernie Banks play first base or shortstop?

Can you make an Ultimate Lineup of Cubs without Ryne Sandberg?

There are no easy answers.

Having the ability to insert the designated hitter would have made some of these decisions less difficult. That was not an option here.

So here are 11 players – with 1 starting pitcher, 1 reliever and 1 spot on the bench – to go to bat with for the Ultimate Cubs Lineup.

1. Rogers Hornsby – 2B
2. Ernie Banks – SS
3. Derrek Lee – 1B
4. Hack Wilson – CF
5. Sammy Sosa – RF
6. Billy Williams – LF
7. Kris Bryant – 3B
8. Willson Contreras – C
9. Greg Maddux – P

Reliever: Aroldis Chapman
Bench: Javier Báez

Antonacci’s rationale

When picking the best of the best, ignore whether a bat is right- or left-handed. This lineup only features one left-handed bat. Fortunately, that left-hander is former National League batting champion in Billy Williams.

Defense matters…to an extent.

Stacking the lineup might even be more difficult than choosing the starters. It’s easy to relate to Joe Maddon on why his day-to-day lineup lacked consistency.

Let’s start with Rogers Hornsby. Yes, he probably had his best seasons with the Cardinals before he came to Chicago. His first season with the Cubs in 1929 is one of the most impressive in the franchise’s history: .380 batting average, 229 hits, 39 home runs and 150 RBI. And that wasn’t even the most impressive season of his career. He had seven other seasons in which he won a National League batting title and 1929 wasn’t one of the two instances in which he won the Triple Crown. The goal in any lineup – especially an Ultimate version – should be to have the best hitters get as many plate appearances as possible. Hornsby is simply one of the best hitters in the history of the game. To find that kind of value from the second base position, he belongs at the top.

That same ideology puts Ernie Banks at the two spot. Banks was a pioneer at the shortstop position, hitting 44 home runs in his second full season in Major League Baseball in 1955. Before there was Cal Ripken Jr. or Alex Rodriguez, there was Mr. Cub. Banks hit more than 40 home runs five times in a six-season span. He appeared on the National League’s All-Star roster 14 times over 11 seasons (making it twice in three different years). Yes, he appeared in more games at first base than he did at shortstop, but he has greater value in the middle of the infield and his better seasons were at short. Banks is the only player in the modern era who went to the Hall of Fame after spending his entire career with the Cubs, so he has a place here. Not too shabby to have someone with 512 career home runs in the two hole.

When it comes to the 21st Century Cubs, no one has had a season like Derrek Lee in 2005. Check that. Few have had a season like that in the history of the game. Lee featured a batting average of .335, 46 home runs, 107 RBI and 50 doubles. Only two other players (Todd Helton in 2001 and Lou Gehrig in 1927) have achieved those minimums in a season in the last 100 years — 1920 is the origin of the live ball era and the start of when RBI became an official stat. Keep in mind that Lee did not have the benefit of playing primarily at Coors Field or hitting in that Murderers’ Row Lineup with the likes of Babe Ruth. As a nice bonus, he won a Gold Glove that 2005 season. What would have become of Lee had he not broken his wrist in 2006? He might have gone down as the greatest hitting Cubs first baseman of all-time.

The cleanup position has been designated as a run-producing place in the lineup. Is there a better choice than Hack Wilson for this role? Wilson drove in 191 runs in 1930 – a single-season record that stood through the modern day home run surges. That record will be like Joe DiMaggio’s consecutive games hitting streak – it will never be broken. Wilson had 159 RBI in 1929. That’s 350 in a two-season span for an average of 175 per year. Wilson was hardly a player whose at-bats ended in one of the three true outcomes. His career batting average was over .300 and he never struck out more than 95 times in a season.

Sammy Sosa, like Wilson, had two seasons in which he finished with more than 150 RBI. Here’s what distinguishes Sosa from anyone else: his three seasons with at least 60 homers. No one else has done it. Sosa hit 50 or more homers four times, tying him with Babe Ruth and Mark McGwire for the most all-time. Sosa also hit 292 homers from 1998-2002, the most in a five-season span in Major League Baseball history. He has arguably been the most exciting hitter to ever appear in a Cubs lineup. As much as Andre Dawson’s arm and defense would be missed in right field, Sosa is the correct MVP choice for this lineup.

This lineup needs some sort of left-handed influence. Look no further than the “Sweet Swinging” one. The aforementioned Williams hit at least 20 homers in 13 consecutive seasons from 1961-73. He had the three highest single-season home run totals for a Cubs left handed-hitter until Kyle Schwarber hit 38 in 2019 to move into the second position on that list. Williams had 392 home runs in a Cubs uniform — 175 more than the second-most left-handed hitter in team history (Anthony Rizzo, 217). Williams played in 1,117 consecutive games – a remarkable run for an outfielder.

Kris Bryant cracks the lineup at the seventh spot. Bryant hit more than 30 homers for the second time in his 5th major league season in 2019. His 138 home runs are the most for a Cubs player in the first five seasons of a career, beating Banks’ mark by two. A quick scan of his trophy case: Golden Spikes Award, NL Rookie of the Year, NL MVP. He is still 28 years old. He gets the edge over Ron Santo for the start at third base. It helps that he has also played the outfield, first base and an inning at shortstop in case any late-game adjustments are required. He might find himself at the top of the Cubs lineup in 2020, but he is a good anchor in the seven spot, especially with his base-running savvy.

Willson Contreras just seemed like the correct choice at catcher. He has finished with an OPS over .800 in three of his four seasons, including when he broke into the majors in 2016. Here is what is telling about Contreras: Maddon trusted a rookie to start 41 times at catcher for a team with World Series aspirations. This is a team that had David Ross and Miguel Montero on the roster. When the games mattered the most, Contreras was getting the playing time. Contreras had 19 at-bats during the 2016 World Series — more than twice as many as Ross (five) and Montero (four) combined. Gabby Hartnett is probably the best catcher in Cubs history, but Contreras has moxie behind the plate. He’s aggressive throwing behind runners and seems to have a strong rapport with the current Cubs pitchers. So in a one-game scenario, let’s go with Contreras.

There’s only one choice for a starting pitcher in this scenario. It’s Greg Maddux. The Ultimate Cubs Lineup cannot feature a deep bullpen, so that leaves a need for someone who can be efficient with pitches and get outs on guile. Maddux had 109 complete games (35 shutouts) in his career. Thirteen of those shutouts featured pitch counts in double digits — the most on record. Maddux won four Cy Young Awards — all in a row, by the way. His record-setting 18 Gold Gloves came in a 19-season span, including a run of 13 straight years. He had 17 straight seasons with at least 15 wins. Simply put: Maddux is a winner. When Maddux left the Cubs for his 11-season stint with the Braves, they made the postseason 10 times with 10 division titles. The only season Atlanta did not experience postseason baseball: 1994 because of the strike.

If Maddux cannot go the distance, there are few options better than Aroldis Chapman to close it out. The Cubs paid a hefty price to rent Chapman and his heater for the latter portion of the 2016 season, sending Gleyber Torres to the Yankees. Of course, Chapman was worth it. Look at how he blew out the Giants in Game 4 of the NLDS, closed out the Dodgers in Game 6 of the NLCS, and put the Indians on ice for an eight-out save in Game 5 of the World Series. His 14.84 strikeouts per nine innings is the best of all-time, using a low standard of 250 innings for a minimum.

What does a bench need? Energy and versatility. Who encapsulates that better than Javier Báez? He is quite simply the heartbeat of the Cubs, pumping life everywhere he goes. In the batter’s box, on the basepaths or playing defense, his passion for the game is always on display. Here is all you need to know about Báez: he was an All-Star at second base in 2018 and an All-Star at shortstop in 2019. It’s a short but awe-inspiring list of players to start All-Star Games at two different infield positions in back-to-back years since 1975: Rod Carew, Cal Ripken Jr., Alex Rodriguez, Miguel Cabrera and Baez. He is the only one to do it at both middle infield positions in the history of the Midsummer Classic. And he truly is one of a kind.

This is an 11-player roster that should be able to line up with any other in Cubs history – or any MLB team for that matter.

Be sure to check out all of our Ultimate Cubs Lineups!

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