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Inbox: Did 'extreme' flexibility hurt the Cubs?

Beat reporter Carrie Muskat answers questions from fans
MLB.com @CarrieMuskat

While the extreme flexibility in the Cubs' lineup is pretty impressive -- from players like Kris Bryant (third base, left field, right field) and Javier Baez (second base, shortstop, third base) being slotted into multiple positions on the field and in the batting order -- do you think not having a relatively settled lineup or batting order is a contributing factor to the team's lack of consistency? -- Joe S., Henderson, Nev.

During exit interviews, Cubs president of baseball operations Theo Epstein said some players did express some frustration over the constantly changing lineups. However, Epstein added that the players understood why manager Joe Maddon changed things up.

While the extreme flexibility in the Cubs' lineup is pretty impressive -- from players like Kris Bryant (third base, left field, right field) and Javier Baez (second base, shortstop, third base) being slotted into multiple positions on the field and in the batting order -- do you think not having a relatively settled lineup or batting order is a contributing factor to the team's lack of consistency? -- Joe S., Henderson, Nev.

During exit interviews, Cubs president of baseball operations Theo Epstein said some players did express some frustration over the constantly changing lineups. However, Epstein added that the players understood why manager Joe Maddon changed things up.

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"They look around and see the talent here," Epstein said. "That's how players talk about it -- it's like, 'Hey, we have so many talented players who deserve to play, and that's what makes us great and really good. But here's how sometimes it makes me feel and here's how if we could communicate about it, it could make things easier.'"

According to Baseball Reference, the Cubs used 152 different batting orders. By comparison, the Brewers used 137 different batting orders and the Dodgers used 155.

In case you were wondering what the most common batting order for the Cubs was: Albert Almora Jr., Baez, Bryant, Anthony Rizzo, Willson Contreras, Kyle Schwarber, Addison Russell, Jason Heyward and the starting pitcher

Maddon used that lineup for five games.

What's the possibility that Kris Bryant will need shoulder surgery this winter? -- Wayne C., South Bend, Ind.

Not likely. At the end of the season, both Bryant and Epstein said the third baseman did not need surgery on his left shoulder.

Once Kris Bryant returned from his second DL stint, he started to keep two hands on the bat, and it appeared he was not "staying through" the baseball as well as he did not trying to keep two hands on the bat. Does Kris plan to swing natural next year or work with keeping two hands on the bat? -- Tyler B., Gilbert, Ariz.

Bryant used the two-handed approach during batting practice and when he was hitting in the cage to avoid putting more stress on his left shoulder. You may have felt he wasn't "staying through" his swing, but Bryant seemed to like the switch and compared it to a golf swing.

"It feels -- and I feel -- a lot more powerful. I feel like I'm hitting the ball further," Bryant said in late August.

He'll most likely experiment this offseason.

I've been wondering the whole season whether David Bote might have a permanent position on the active roster rather than bouncing back and forth from Triple-A to the big leagues. -- Denise M., Yorkville, Ill.

Bote did shuttle back and forth early, but was stayed with the big league team from July 26 through the end of the year. His versatility on defense and .455 batting average as a pinch-hitter certainly make him an attractive player to have on the active roster. It will depend on the roster makeup next year, but he definitely opened some eyes.

Tyler Chatwood can't pitch. To even suggest including him as a starter for 2019 is ludicrous. The upper management must own up to the fact that they spent money on him and figure out a way to get rid of him. -- Judi M., Barrington, Ill.

Chatwood did finish the season as the Major League leader in walks. He also held right-handed hitters to a .150 average and .219 slugging percentage. Let's see what happens after an offseason to reboot. When the Cubs signed Chatwood last December, I heard from more than one scout that it was a great pickup. I'm optimistic that he can get back on track.

Is there any concern regarding the Cubs batting with runners in scoring position? I heard many comments that we had such a low average for that during the season. -- Haley S., Vero Beach, Fla.

The Cubs finished 10th in the National League with a .247 batting average with runners in scoring position. By comparison, they also ranked 10th in 2016 with a .252 batting average with RISP and 11th in 2017 at .253. It's something the Cubs would like to improve on, which will likely be a hot topic for the new hitting coach.

What is the current number of players (past and present) with any connection (Major or Minor Leagues) to the Texas Rangers? (Asked by a Texas Cubs fan who went to the same high school as Kerry Wood and currently lives four miles away from where the Rangers play) -- Stanley K., Grand Prairie, Texas

According to Baseball Reference, 68 pitchers pitched and 141 players played for both the Cubs and Rangers. I'm not going to list them all (not enough room here), but the list does include a variety, including Don Zimmer (who played and managed the Cubs and also managed the Rangers from 1981-82).

Players on the 2018 Cubs with ties to both included Anthony Bass, Eddie Butler, Jesse Chavez, Yu Darvish, Chris Gimenez, Cole Hamels, and Pedro Strop. Kyle Hendricks was drafted by the Rangers in 2008, and Carl Edwards Jr. was drafted in '11.

Carrie Muskat has covered the Cubs since 1987, and for MLB.com since 2001. You can follow her on Twitter @CarrieMuskat.

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