Inbox: Will DH mean Cubs stick to a set lineup?

Beat reporter Jordan Bastian answers questions from fans

July 1st, 2020

For anyone who has played the game of baseball at any level, the comfort of having a bat in hand never really goes away. I have an old wood Mike Schmidt model from my childhood that I still swing in the house -- until my wife reminds me of all the things that are at risk of being broken.

I recently purchased a batting net for our backyard so my kids could practice their swings for softball and baseball. But, hey, let's be honest here. It was also for me. Playing catch is one thing, but three months of self-isolating has created a craving for the sound of a bat striking a baseball.

"Nice negative attack angle, nerd," a front-office friend texted after I sent a video of my swing (self-aware and self-deprecating laughing emojis included).

The sun was out and the sky was a bright blue with few clouds. It was a beautiful day for baseball, so the sound of wood on cowhide and yarn was welcomed -- even if it came via this sportswriter's embarrassing launch angle.

Baseball is on the horizon again for the Cubs and all across the Majors. There will be protocols, guidelines and empty stands, but there will be baseball for as long as it's safe to do so. The pop of the glove and crack of the bat are coming soon, and we all could use it.

With Summer Camp upon us, let's dive into the Inbox ...

With the designated hitter now available, do you think Cubs manager David Ross will have the same lineup and batting order pretty much every game?
-- @Jon_McClure_ on Twitter

On a recent videoconference call with Chicago reporters, Ross was asked if the shorter season (not necessarily the DH) would potentially lead to a more stable lineup. Here is what he had to say:

"I think in this unique environment, on paper, there's certain things that you feel like are better matchups, and we're going to look at every bit of information we possibly can. But there's also an element of who's swinging the bat well and having the better at-bats and really squaring some balls up and knocking it around the field. So we're going to take all those things into consideration. But I think the more we give guys regular at-bats, the better it's going to be as we continue on this."

Given that this season will essentially be a small-sample size, Ross said he wasn't sure platooning could be used normally. He gave the example of a batter limited to 150 at-bats and how that might actually hinder performance. Instead, the manager might give one player the bulk of at-bats and then use the other options more as bench bats.

Ross said he still plans on having Kris Bryant in the leadoff spot with Anthony Rizzo in the second slot. From there, Javier Báez makes sense in the No. 3 hole with Kyle Schwarber (not a "strict" DH option, per Ross) cleaning up and Willson Contreras hitting fifth. Jason Heyward would then make sense in the No. 6 spot for balance, with some mixing and matching to finish out the order, depending on who else starts any given game.

Why aren't all of the guys on the 40-man roster included on the taxi squad? I know there are still 10 slots to fill, but it seems odd.
-- @DerekRing29 on Twitter

First, a point of clarification. The 60-man roster is considered the "player pool," while the three extra players allowed to be included on road trips for depth reasons are the "taxi squad." Based on your question, I'm assuming you are referring to the larger player pool.

The answer here is, really, flexibility. As general manager Jed Hoyer explained, it is much easier to add to the pool than it is to subtract, as the latter requires more transactional maneuvering. So the players on the 40-man roster excluded from the 60-man pool were probably not considered true MLB depth options for the 2020 season.

By submitting 50 players right now, that gives the Cubs a chance to get to Summer Camp, evaluate the players in hand and make a determination as to whether more Major League depth is needed. At a later date, if Chicago is more comfortable with its pool and vacancies still exist, Hoyer said the club might revisit adding more players from within the system.

What're the odds that we actually see lefty Brailyn Marquez or outfielder Brennen Davis in the Majors this year?
-- @bagman928 on Twitter

If I had to rank one higher than the other, I'd say Marquez (No. 2 on the Cubs' Top 30 prospects list, per MLB Pipeline) would be more likely to reach The Show in '20 than Davis (No. 3), who is 20 years old and topped out at Class A South Bend in '19. Marquez, 21, reached Class A Advanced Myrtle Beach in '19 and boasts a fastball that can reach triple digits.

That said, the real goal behind sending them to the South Bend alternate training site is to give them a great shot to continue their development. Maybe there's a scenario in which Marquez reaches the Cubs -- especially given all the unknowns with the COVID-19 crisis -- but the priority is development and not rushing the lefty to the Majors.

With the expanded roster to start the season, which players do you think have the edge to round it out? Maybe Ian Miller (for speed) and Josh Phegley (third catcher) could be options. Will there be a limit to how many pitchers a team can carry?
-- @evanjjohnson11 on Twitter

To answer your last question first: No, there is no limit on the number of pitchers a team can carry this year.

The ability to carry 30 players on Opening Day does give Chicago a number of ways to go with the last spot or two on the bench. Plus, there is the addition of the DH to consider. If Victor Caratini and Willson Contreras wind up in the lineup together more, maybe a third catcher (Phegley) is the way to go. That said, the taxi squad will include a catcher. So if the Cubs plan on keeping Phegley available that way, Miller (as you noted) makes a lot of sense as a stolen-base threat off the bench. The latter scenario is really intriguing to me, especially with how impressive Miller was in the spring (.383 average and eight steals in 17 Cactus League games).

Hey, what does "strap it on" mean? I have seen it all over Cubs Twitter.
-- Caden in Winnetka, Ill.

As far as I can gather, the origin of #StrapItOn on Twitter is this Feb. 18 quote from Bryant early in the original Spring Training, while discussing Ross:

"Rossy's going to be Rossy. He's fun to be around. He's a funny guy. But, like I've been saying, he can really strap it on and be serious when you need him to. But, of course, it's on both sides. We know that we've completely failed the last two years and there's no nonsense this year. We're strapping it on and ready to go."

But one quote -- even with two mentions of that phrase -- was not enough. What really pushed the mantra over the top was when Jason Kipnis used the same motto while talking about his new team in a chat with reporters on Feb. 22:

"I'm not shying away from any competition. I'm not shying away from whoever's across that line against us. I'm ready to strap it on and go against them."

Once multiple players uttered the hashtag-friendly phrase about taking the field with a no-nonsense, competitive edge, Cubs fans kept running with it on social media. So there you go. Now, it's canon.