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Why Cubs think the leadoff spot is a good fit for Nick Madrigal right now

1 year agoAndy Martinez

For the Cubs, putting Nick Madrigal at the leadoff spot is a two-pronged thought process.

One aspect is the type of player he is — he’s a contact-first bat that, when healthy, has proven he can hit at well at the major-league level.

The second part of the approach lies in where he is in his career. When he was acquired in 2021 from the White Sox in the deal for Craig Kimbrel, Madrigal was rehabbing from a torn hamstring which caused him to miss nearly four months of game action. Up to that point, he had played just 83 games with 324 plate appearances at the big-league level. This season, Madrigal has played in only 40 games due to a pair of stints on the IL.

So, the Cubs want Madrigal to have as many at-bats as he can as the season winds down.

“Just putting him up there to see — get him back as many bats as we can possibly see from him,” manager David Ross told reporters on Monday before the Cubs’ loss to the Nationals. “Working his way with missing all the time he’s had to just get him consistent ABs and keeping him healthy.”

But just as important as his skills and picking up plenty of plate appearances is just how solid Madrigal has looked since he’s returned from his latest injury (a left groin strain). Since rejoining the Cubs lineup on August 4 — he was activated on August 2 but didn’t play in a game until two days later — Madrigal has posted a .357 batting average and .455 on-base percentage.

“A lot of hitting is on the mental side,” Madrigal said last week. “If you can calm down that, usually when you’re going pretty good. It’s just, ‘see the ball, hit the ball.’ Then when things aren’t going great, you have a million thoughts.

“I feel like [recently], I just haven’t been worried about anything other than just seeing the ball, hitting the ball honestly.”

As a result, the Cubs are seeing the player they were hoping for when they acquired him last season.

“His legs are getting good and underneath him; the approach is right. He looks strong in his base, getting down the line really well,” Ross said. “[The] kinda player he knows is and we believe he is and so just seeing that play out is just rewarding I think for him and us.”

His progression will be something the Cubs and Cubs fans will be watching closely. And that will come with plenty of looks as he continues to carve at a role at the top of the Cubs’ lineup.

“The way he’s swinging the bat, the at-bats he’s had, taking some whacks since he’s come back, the off-field approach he’s had, he’s got real bat to ball skills just thinking about how he goes about it,” Ross said. “It could be really frustrating from a starting pitchers’ standpoint that some of these guys can spray it around a little bit.

“It would be a really tough at-bat in my take.”

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