Why Joe Maddon and The Geek Department think this Cubs lineup could be more explosive than last year’s team

Why Joe Maddon and The Geek Department think this Cubs lineup could be more explosive than last year’s team

MESA, Ariz. – The Geek Department has spoken, reaffirming Cubs manager Joe Maddon's belief that Kyle Schwarber should be the leadoff guy atop another monster lineup projected to score more runs than the 2016 World Series champions.

"I'm all about the geeks," Maddon said. "Everybody should have their own geek."

Before the Cubs even reported to Arizona for camp, Maddon assigned a project to the research-and-development wing inside Theo Epstein's front office, asking what the simulations looked like with Schwarber at leadoff and the pitcher hitting eighth in front of Jon Jay or Albert Almora Jr.      

"Really hot, really hot," Maddon said. "If that number's right, I'll take it."

Would that projection be north of 800 runs?

"I didn't get an actual overall number," Maddon said. "I got a per-game number. That's what I like."

Maddon sort of smirked when asked if the per-game average would be north of five: "I don't know. It's a good number." The Cubs led every National League team except for the Colorado Rockies with 808 runs scored last season. Pitcher Mike Montgomery batted eighth in Sunday's prime-time lineup against the Kansas City Royals at Sloan Park, where 2 through 7 the Cubs looked like an Opening Night cast: Kris Bryant, Anthony Rizzo, Ben Zobrist, Addison Russell, Willson Contreras and Jason Heyward.   

The Cubs are banking on a full season/good health with Schwarber, Heyward not being one of the worst hitters in the majors and continued growth from their young talent. Even with Dexter Fowler taking his you-go, we-go act to the St. Louis Cardinals, the internal forecast has the 2017 Cubs scoring more runs than last year's 103-win team.

[VIDID SEATS: Buy Cubs tickets here!

"With Schwarber hitting first, yeah," Maddon said. "I think that's accurate. I don't remember that number being on last year's lineup. They gave me a sheet with different scenarios. It was pretty heavy. 

"Dexter was awesome, obviously. But (it's) Schwarber with the power potential, the home runs coming out of that spot with the extra at-bats, the natural rebounding of Jason. You just think that Jason's going to be a better hitter, production-wise, than last year, (plus) some of the younger guys, like Willson as an example, in his second year in the big leagues. 

"I've been talking about bearing down on defense and pitching, because I think naturally the hitting's going to get better, based on these guys are good and they have more experience. 

"All those things indicate that if we set it up this way, we should have a pretty good offensive year, especially against a right-handed pitcher."

Schwarber might get the day off against tough lefties, which would push the pitcher back down to the ninth spot. But the Cubs aren't an NL West team that will regularly have to face a Clayton Kershaw or a Madison Bumgarner. And the facts on the ground are constantly changing.

"I talk to the guys upstairs: 'This is what I'm thinking. Tell me where I'm wrong,'" Maddon said. "Like I said a couple years ago when Schwarber finally came up, I thought of hitting Schwarber first there and Dexter second. But they insisted the other way around. They were right. 

"So, listen, I have no problem with that stuff. Believe me, that's the one thing I have learned: You can have all the great feelings in the world. It still might not be the right thing. Like a guy comes up to me and says: 'I have a good feeling about today.' Oh my God, I want to run. 

"How do you know? There are so many times I've come to the ballpark, felt like crap, and we'll play the best game of the year. That has no correlation. You can feel all you want. (But) they gave me some solid information. I'm open for all that stuff."

While "Bryzzo," an American League-style lineup and a franchise built around hitters drew more attention, the Cubs rolled up a plus-252 run differential last year with consistent pitching and the best defensive unit in the majors, meaning this could actually be a different dimension for the defending champs.

"Everybody talked about the offense," Maddon said. "We pitched and caught the ball so well that the differential spread based on that. It wasn't just purely beating people up offensively."

Saturday on CSN: Kyle Hendricks, Cubs face Reds

Saturday on CSN: Kyle Hendricks, Cubs face Reds

The Cubs face off against the Cincinnati Reds on Saturday, and you can catch all the cation on CSN. Coverage begins at 3:00 p.m.

Starting pitching matchup: Kyle Hendricks vs. Robert Stephenson

[Buy Cubs tickets right here]

Channel finder: Make sure you know where to watch

Latest on the Cubs: All of the most recent news and notes

World Series thank-yous follow Kris Bryant to Las Vegas

World Series thank-yous follow Kris Bryant to Las Vegas

MESA, Ariz. – Kris Bryant didn’t need to pose for a Crate & Barrel billboard in Wrigleyville or walk a goat around a Bed Bath & Beyond commercial shoot. Cub fans just kept sending him free stuff.

The wedding gifts actually shipped to his parents’ house in Las Vegas, where he honed the swing that landed him on a new Sports Illustrated cover that asked: “How Perfect is Kris Bryant?”   

This happens when you mention your registries on a late-night show with another Vegas guy (Jimmy Kimmel) after leading an iconic franchise to its first World Series title in 108 years.        

So Bryant will be the center of attention in Sin City this weekend when the Cubs play two split-squad games against the Cincinnati Reds. But that spotlight will pretty much follow the National League’s reigning MVP wherever he goes. 

At least this gives Bryant a chance to chill at the pool and organize the house he moved into in January. 

“My mom just kept throwing stuff in my car: ‘Here, take it!’” Bryant said. “Opening all those boxes, I can’t believe how many presents we got from fans. It was unbelievable. Jess is going to have to write all the thank-you notes. I’m just signing my name on them. You have literally like 700 thank-you notes to write.

“I said: ‘You need to just go get the generic thank-you.’ She’s like: ‘No, they took the time out of their day to buy us a present.’ This is going to take her the whole year. So if there’s anybody out there that’s waiting for one…”    

The wait is finally over for generations of Cub fans. Spring training will always have a “Groundhog Day” element to it. But this camp – with no major injuries so far or real roster intrigue or truly wacky stunts – has felt different. As the players get ready for a new season – one without 1908 looming over everything – they can’t escape what they did. 

“Every day something reminds me of it,” said Kyle Hendricks, who will start Saturday in Las Vegas. “Even going to throw in these spring games, when they announce your name and the whole crowd erupts because of the World Series. That wasn’t happening last year. 

“Little things like that make me notice. Something every day is brought to my attention, so it’s still getting used to that part.”  

The Cubs insist there won’t be a hangover effect in 2017, believing that this young group is too talented and too focused to get derailed by distractions and overconfidence. But the Cubs could go 0-162 this season and Bryant would still probably be breaking down boxes for recycling.   

“It’s funny,” Bryant said. “We just put cameras on my house for security and I’ll just look at it sometimes. I’ll randomly see my mom just unloading boxes. I’m like: ‘Mom, what’s going on? Are we getting more stuff?’ She’s like: ‘Yeah, we keep getting more boxes.’”