The Chicago Cubs held onto their playoff hopes for dear life last year. After leading the NL Central for much of the summer, they lost two series against the Brewers to set up a tiebreaker for the division title. Milwaukee took that 3-1, forcing Chicago into an NL Wildcard tilt at Wrigley Field versus the Rockies.
It took 13 innings before Colorado punched out the Cubs 2-1. Only a few years removed from the franchise’s first World Series championship in 108 years, the pressure is back on Joe Maddon and Chicago.
The season starts Thursday versus the Rangers in Arlington. Texas is coming off its second 95-loss season in the last five years, and they’re not positioned to be much better in 2019. Essentially, it’s an excellent chance at a palate cleanser after last fall.
What’s the lineup and who’s starting on the mound for Chicago for this Opening Day matchup? Let’s take a look.
Cubs Opening Day Lineup vs. Rangers
Michael Cerami of Bleacher Nation provides the following lineup with some wiggle room for Maddon at various spots. Addison Russell will not be available as he serves his 40-game suspension without pay for violating Major League Baseball’s Joint Domestic Violence, Sexual Assault and Child Abuse Policy.
C – Willson Contreras
1B – Anthony Rizzo
2B – David Bote/Daniel Descalso/Ben Zobrist
3B – Kris Bryant/David Bote
SS – Javy Baez
LF – Kyle Schwarber/Mark Zagunis/Kris Bryant
CF – Albert Almora/Jason Heyward
RF – Jason Heyward/Mark Zagunis/Ben Zobrist
DH – Ben Zobrist/Kyle Schwarber
The big question with Russell’s absence is how the middle of the infield shakes out. Javy Baez is slated to take over at shortstop, which leaves a competition for second base between David Bote and Daniel Descalso.
Tim Stebbins of NBC Sports Chicago states that Bote will focus on backing up Baez, while Descalso should see the first starts at second.
Bote will backup Báez, though the former only played 10 major league innings at the position in 2018. He has 344 2/3 innings of experience at shortstop in the minor leagues, however.
Descalso has played more innings (1,974) at second base than any other position in his career. However, he has experience playing first and third base, shortstop, and left and right field. He didn’t see any time at shortstop in 2018, though, so one should not expect to see much of him there.
Stebbins continues with the outfield, saying that Almora has shifted to centerfield due to Ian Happ’s demotion to the AAA affiliate in Iowa. Maddon stated that Happ’s redesignation was to get him quality at-bats.
“We’re gonna send Ian back to Triple-A,” Joe Maddon said this past weekend. “We just want to make sure he gets down there and really gets a lot of consistent at-bats, especially from the left side. Obviously, we consider him a huge part of our future.”
Starting at the pitcher has been clear. It’s 35-year old Jon Lester.
Pedro Strop likely will get the majority of the save opportunities while Brandon Morrow continues his recovery from offseason elbow surgery. Carl Edwards Jr. and Steve Cishek would be next in line until Morrow returns in May.