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Cubs' high-octane lineup set to return in '18

Bryant, Rizzo lead club that scored second most runs in NL last year
January 6, 2018

CHICAGO -- Cubs manager Joe Maddon admitted during the Winter Meetings that he hasn't been scribbling different lineup combinations for the upcoming season. Maybe that's because there haven't been many changes.If the 2018 season began today, what would the Cubs' lineup look like? Most likely very similar to what it

CHICAGO -- Cubs manager Joe Maddon admitted during the Winter Meetings that he hasn't been scribbling different lineup combinations for the upcoming season. Maybe that's because there haven't been many changes.
If the 2018 season began today, what would the Cubs' lineup look like? Most likely very similar to what it did last year.
This will be year No. 2 without leadoff man William Fowler, but the Cubs haven't been focused on finding a replacement. Last year, they rotated 11 different players into the No. 1 spot in the lineup -- including Anthony Rizzo -- and were able to finish with the second-most runs in the National League. They'll take that production again.
MLB.com is taking a look at the projected lineup of all 30 teams ahead of Spring Training. Here's how the Cubs might stack up:
CUBS LINEUP IF SEASON STARTED TODAY
Benjamin Zobrist, 2B
Kristopher Bryant, 3B
Anthony Rizzo, 1B
Willson Contreras, C
Kyle Schwarber, LF
Addison Russell, SS
Jason Heyward, RF
Albert Almora Jr., CF
STRENGTH
Where's Javier Baez? Where's Ian Happ? Probably the biggest strength of the Cubs' roster is that they have depth and versatile players and can easily start Baez or Happ and not miss a beat. In 2017, Maddon utilized what he called a "Rizzo sandwich," which was a Bryant-Rizzo-Zobrist combination, and the Cubs could return to that if they like someone else at leadoff. The above lineup also is true to Maddon's preference of alternating left- and right-handed batters. Bryant definitely needs to be at the top of the order after scoring 111 runs and leading the team with 95 walks.

QUESTION MARKS
While the Cubs did score 800-plus runs, it wasn't easy. They ranked 11th in the National League in batting average with runners in scoring position (.253). Keep in mind, they were 10th in batting average with RISP in '16 (.252). Which Schwarber will show up? Will it be the one who struggled at the start of the season, batting .178 in the first half? Maddon isn't sure if Schwarber will lead off in 2018, but he didn't dismiss it entirely. Zobrist, who turns 37 in May, struggled with a left wrist injury. Can he stay healthy and contribute more?

WHAT MIGHT CHANGE
Pitching has been the emphasis this offseason, but the Cubs still have spots on the bench to fill and they need to find another Jonathan Jay, a veteran who can sub in the outfield. Most teams rely on a veteran as a backup catcher, but Maddon did hint that Victor Caratini could fill that role for the Cubs.
What impact will new hitting coach Chili Davis have? One of the reasons Maddon wanted to make a switch was because he felt Davis has a better idea about what a player's approach should be with runners in scoring position or in certain situations. Davis has already been working with Heyward in Arizona.
"Chili's like that dude who can apply the graduate school kind of stuff -- the undergrad to grad kind of stuff," Maddon said.
What also may change is more playing time for Baez. Last season, he made 56 starts at second base and 67 at shortstop when Russell was hurt. Last month, Maddon said Baez was an everyday player. The Cubs just have to figure out a way to get him involved every day.

Carrie Muskat has covered the Cubs since 1987, and for MLB.com since 2001. She writes a blog, Muskat Ramblings, and you can follow her on Twitter @CarrieMuskat.