The playoff-chasing Cubs have a leadoff problem and Joe Maddon won't pick the easy solution

The Cubs blew up for five runs in the seventh inning on Monday, helping them win a game against the Mariners. It was good for their fifth win in their last seven games and 10th win in their last 15 if we wanted to spin it that way. That frame was also the first time they had scored a run in 25 innings. Given the talent they have, the offense is far too inconsistent. 

A big part of the problem is one that has existed ever since Dexter Fowler started Game 7 of the 2016 World Series with a home run -- and then departed via free agency: the leadoff spot. 

Cubs' leadoff hitters are hitting .202/.282/.376 this season. 

Cubs manager Joe Maddon has tried a bevy of hitters in the spot and none have worked. Some are Maddon's fault and some aren't. 

  • Kyle Schwarber spent 56 games at the top of the order. His skill set is a slugger with a low average who strikes out. He does take walks, but he hit .229 with a .304 OBP in the top spot. Next. 
  • Jason Heyward was enjoying a renaissance of a season, but then Maddon put him in the leadoff spot. Heyward was hitting .278/.355/.458 before being made the leadoff man. Since then: .160/.282/.310. This one wasn't on Maddon at the time. It made sense. It is on Maddon that he hasn't changed course. 
  • Albert Almora, for some godforsaken reason, has hit there 14 times. After the All-Star break last season, Almora hit .213/.241/.373. This year, Almora is hitting .241/.276/.393. In a 13-game stint in Triple-A, Almora hit .224/.283/.327. This guy shouldn't be playing for a contender, let alone hitting at the top of the order. 
  • Ben Zobrist hit there 14 times as well. He works good plate appearances and is a defensible choice, though he hasn't played in an MLB game since May and is 38. 
  • Daniel Descalso hit there 11 times. He's hitting .181 with a .283 OBP this year. 
  • Anthony Rizzo hitting there is kind of an inside joke at this point and he led off twice. He's a slugger with good on-base skills, but man, he's lumbering and you'd rather have someone who can run. 
  • Perhaps unbelievably, Maddon hit Javier Baez and Robel Garcia leadoff five times combined. Both can slug but do not have even average on-base chops and strikeout too often. That's not a leadoff man skill set. 
  • Ian Happ is perhaps defensible, but right now he's at a .226 average and .316 on-base and he strikes out often. 
  • Tony Kemp also hit there once. He's fast, but he has a .283 on-base percentage this season. 

Anyone notice a name I didn't mention who actually makes sense? 

Kris Bryant

I pushed this idea all the way back in December of 2017, so it's not new. 

Maddon did hit Bryant leadoff seven times last season. You might be thinking it was a disaster and it's why Maddon won't try it this year, but Bryant actually hit .321 with a .387 on-base percentage in those seven games. 

That doesn't mean it would work now, but there isn't any data that says Bryant leading off would be a bad idea. The Cubs have had a black hole in one of the most important lineup spots all season and Bryant has a .379 OBP this season and is one of the best baserunners in baseball -- not in pure speed, but he's not slow and we're talking about things like taking the extra base. The Cubs have the personnel to make it work, too. I'll prove it: 

  1. Kris Bryant
  2. Nicholas Castellanos
  3. Anthony Rizzo
  4. Javier Baez
  5. Willson Contreras
  6. Kyle Schwarber

We can stop there, but does it look like a lineup desperate for Bryant's power to be lower in the order? C'mon. 

The Cubs have had a problem at the top of the order all year. There's a solution on the team. It's only a matter of Maddon deciding to use it. 

CBS Sports Writer

Matt Snyder has been a baseball writer with CBS Sports since 2011. A member of the BBWAA, he's now covered every World Series since 2010. The former Indiana University baseball player now lives on the... Full Bio

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