Ultimate Cubs Lineup: Tony 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?
Here are my thoughts:
1. Kenny Lofton – CF
2. Kris Bryant – 3B
3. Billy Williams – LF
4. Sammy Sosa – RF
5. Ernie Banks – SS
6. Mark Grace – 1B
7. Ryne Sandberg – 2B
8. Gabby Hartnett – C
9. Jake Arrieta – P
Reliever: Lee Smith
Bench guy: Javy Báez
Lofton only played a half-season with the Cubs, but it was a very important half-season in 2003. He’s one of the greatest leadoff hitters in modern-day baseball and offers a blend of speed (622 career stolen bases), defense (4 Gold Gloves), on-base ability (.372 lifetime OBP) and some slug to the top of the lineup. Plus, I needed a leadoff hitter to set the tone and a centerfielder with a ton of range and Lofton checks both boxes.
I could’ve gone Ron Santo here at third base, but I chose Bryant for his on-base ability, all-around game and versatility. The 2016 NL MVP is a phenomenal baserunner and can change the game in one moment with his hustle and smarts on the basepaths. Plus, it’s hard to argue with a career .385 on-base percentage, which is perfect for the 2-spot to set the table. Bryant also has the highest career OPS (.901) of the group.
There was simply no way I could keep the next three guys off the roster — Williams, Sosa and Banks are the three greatest position players in the history of the Cubs, statistically speaking. It’s hard to argue with 2 Hall of Famers and a guy with 609 career homers in the heart of your lineup.
I chose to bat Williams third because he’s the best contact hitter of the three with almost as many walks (1045) as strikeouts (1046) in his career. He hit over .300 five times in his Cubs career, including winning the 1972 NL batting title (.333).
Sosa and Banks are the greatest power hitters to ever put on a Cubs uniform and Banks also fulfills the shortstop position here, as he made more than 1,100 starts at the position to begin his career.
Grace and Sandberg are next, and the only reason Grace is hitting sixth is because I didn’t want to have three right-handed hitters in a row. Plus, Grace’s ability to put the ball in play (he walked more than he struck out in all 16 of his MLB seasons) and get on base (lifetime .383 OBP) are paramount here.
It feels weird having a Hall of Famer hitting seventh, but this is an incredible lineup and Sandberg actually has the lowest career OPS (.795) of anybody ahead of him except for Lofton (.794 career OPS). Still, it’s comforting to know that the bottom of the order begins with a guy who has an MVP Award, 7 Silver Sluggers, 10 All-Star appearances and 9 Gold Gloves in his trophy case.
Hartnett was an easy choice as catcher, a Hall of Famer who won an MVP Award in 1935 and finished with 56.9 WAR over his 20-year career.
This lineup has everything — speed, power, on-base skills —and it’s diverse in that it doesn’t have all the same type of hitter (three lefties, contact bats mixed with power bats, etc.).
As far as pitching, Arrieta might seem like an odd choice considering I had the likes of Fergie Jenkins, Greg Maddux and Jon Lester to choose from.
While those guys are all awesome choices, covering Arrieta’s 2015 season was incredible, watching that dominant second-half run up close. What he did in the 2015 Wild Card Game against the Pirates was the stuff of legend and one of the most important moments for a team that eventually ended the franchise’s championship drought the following fall. Oh yeah, and during the World Series, Arrieta won 2 games on the road in a hostile environment — first claiming the all-important Game 2 win to keep his team from falling to 0-2 in the series and secondly in Game 6 when the Cubs had their backs against the wall and could not afford another loss.
Give me that guy in a must-win game.
As an added bonus, Arrieta is a good athlete and a solid hitter with 7 career homers (including a 3-run shot off Madison Bumgarner in the 2016 NLDS) and a .720 OPS season (2016) to his name. That matters when he’s going to be taking 2-3 at-bats in this winner-take-all game.
As far as relievers go, I seriously considered Aroldis Chapman here, as he’s an imposing figure that can dial it up to triple digits and is a dominant closer. Plus, he’s left-handed and would give the hitters a much different look off the mound than Arrieta.
But I ultimately chose the Hall of Fame reliever who led the league in saves 4 times and closed out 478 games in his illustrious career. Smith also routinely went multiple innings in an appearance throughout his 18 years in the big leagues and there’s a good chance we’re going to need him to get more than 3 outs in this ballgame.
The bench spot is probably the most intriguing aspect of this entire exercise. Do you choose a pinch-hitting specialist like Tommy La Stella or Lenny Harris? Do you play the percentages and choose a left-handed bat (like Rizzo), assuming you’re most likely going to need him in a spot against a right-handed pitcher? Do you choose a pinch-runner like Lou Brock or Terrance Gore?
Ultimately, I chose Báez, because he can check so many boxes. And I actually was looking for a way to add Báez to the original eight position players, just because of how many different ways he can help a team win a game.
But I couldn’t possibly omit Sandberg at second base and I really wanted Grace’s steady production in the lineup, so I chose to keep Banks at shortstop instead of first base, the position he played for most of his career.
That leaves Báez as a perfect fit for the bench spot. He has no problem coming in cold and catching up to elite velocity or pitching and he can obviously provide some pop if the moment calls for it. He could also be utilized as a pinch-runner with his speed, instincts and acrobatic slides. Báez can play awesome defense at multiple positions, so he could be a part of a double switch or simply act as a defensive replacement.
When it came down to it, I just wanted Báez‘s baseball IQ somewhere on this roster. Even if he’s not starting the game, I feel a lot better about my chances of winning the game knowing El Mago is the ace in the hole.
Be sure to check out all of our Ultimate Cubs Lineups!