With less than a week before MLB’s opening day, it’s the perfect opportunity to make starting lineup predictions.
Starting out, it was made public by Marcus Stroman himself that he’s taking the rubber come opening day March 30.
It makes sense, as he’s one of the veteran pitchers on the team and has been a bonafide No. 1 starter for most of his career with the Toronto Blue Jays and New York Mets.
Stroman and the Cubs will battle the Milwaukee Brewers Thursday at Wrigley Field, and Milwaukee will start the 2021 NL Cy Young and ERA Title Winner Corbin Burnes.
Burnes started on the bump against the Cubs last season, allowing three earned runs in five innings in the Cubs’ opening 5-4 win.
The Cubs have two options behind the dish, two veterans in Yan Gomes and Tucker Barnhart.
Gomes was added in free agency prior to the 2022 season and appeared in 86 games last year. The Cubs signed Barnhart to a one-year $3.25 million deal this offseason with a 2024 player option. Barnhart was part of President Jed Hoyer’s defense-heavy offseason, focusing on players who provide quality play in the field.
While Barnhart doesn’t provide much at the plate with a below-average career OPS, he is a two-time Gold Glove Winner. I predict he gets the nod behind the plate.
Free-agent signee Eric Hosmer will start at first base come Thursday. I think that Hosmer is here to provide a bridge before the Mashin’ Matt Mervis era begins in the Windy City.
Hosmer signed a minimum $720,000 contract with the Northsiders after signing an 8-year, $144 million deal with the San Diego Padres in 2018. Hosmer, now one of the many veteran faces in the clubhouse, is a four-time Gold Glove winner and one-time All-Star.
The Cubs will eventually have to bring up 24-year-old Mervis, especially if he continues to rake in Des Moines.
The middle infield is clearly set, and it may be the deepest position group in all of MLB. Nico Hoerner will easily get the start at second base, while newly-signed Dansby Swanson will start at shortstop.
Hoerner saw a breakout season in 2022, his first full season as a starter. Hoerner’s drastic increase in power in 2022 (10 HR, compared to three in his previous 112 games) qualified him as an above-average hitter, and his defense was Gold-Glove caliber. It’s very well known what Dansby Swanson brings to the Northside: veteran leadership, quality offensive production, and, most importantly, some of the best defense in all of baseball. Swanson was a World Series Champion in 2021 and earned his first Gold Glove and All-Star Award in 2022.
The middle-infield tandem of Swanson and Hoerner will do wonders for starting pitchers at Wrigley Field.
Third base is an interesting position for the Cubs. Patrick Wisdom was the primary starter last season, but Seiya Suzuki’s injury likely pits Wisdom in the right field. Due to this, I believe there are a few players vying for the position: Newly-added corner infielder Edwin Ríos, Nick Madrigal and potentially Christopher Morel.
Ríos has spent his entire playing career with the Los Angeles Dodgers, qualifying as an above-average hitter in limited playing time. Both Madrigal and Morel have lost their positions from last season (CF for Morel and 2B/SS for Madrigal) but have earned playing time at third during spring training.
I can see all three guys making starts during the season, but I think they go with Ríos, who has more experience at the hot corner.
The final positions – left field, center field and designated hitter – have pretty clear starters. Ian Happ has manned left field in every season of his career, and he earned his first All-Star bid there last season.
He will continue to play left field as long as he plays for the Cubs. Cody Bellinger is the clear starter in center field come opening day. Bellinger earned a NL MVP, two All-Star appearances and a Gold Glove while playing center with the Los Angeles Dodgers. Bellinger looks to bounce back following three underwhelming seasons in LA after his 2019 MVP.
One of the greatest comeback stories in MLB history – Trey Mancini’s return to baseball after recovering from cancer. Mancini will get the opening day start as the designated hitter.
Former Cubs’ catcher Willson Contreras filled the hole at DH in 2022 – the first season it was implemented in both leagues. Mancini plays first base as well and might fill in there during Hosmer’s off days. Mancini has performed extraordinarily so far this spring.