Maddon anticipates even more run production

Maddon anticipates even more run production

MESA, Ariz. -- Opening Night for the Cubs is in two weeks, and manager Joe Maddon likes what he sees, especially after getting some projections from the baseball operations department regarding the offense. Last season, the Cubs ranked second in the National League in runs scored (808) behind the Rockies, but that was without Kyle Schwarber in the lineup.

"For right now," Maddon said, "it looks like hitting him [first] and the pitcher eighth is not a bad idea."

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That's because the geeks, as Maddon fondly calls the statistics folks, project the Cubs to score more runs than they did last year. They're not only counting on Schwarber's presence making a difference but another year of maturity for the young hitters like Willson Contreras, Addison Russell and even Kris Bryant. Plus, they project a rebound season for Jason Heyward, who batted .230 last year.

"I think, naturally, the hitting will get better," Maddon said. "If somebody had a bad year, they should rebound from last year."

Schwarber may not seem like a prototypical leadoff hitter, but Maddon likes having him at the top.

"If he's hitting fourth or fifth, I don't believe he'll be pitched the same as he will hitting in front of Bryant and [Anthony] Rizzo," said Maddon, who is a proponent of constructing a lineup that protects key players. "When my lineup card goes to the other team and they look at that, and if Schwarber is left without a blanket, they'll exploit not pitching to him."

Maddon will start work on the mental part of the game after Tuesday's off-day to prepare for the season opener on April 2, when the Cubs face the Cardinals. He's already seen some changes in the attitude after meeting early last week with the "lead bulls." Those are the veteran players Maddon likes to have in charge of the clubhouse.

"It seems it's working in the right direction," Maddon said.

Did any of the young players on the roster move up to lead-bull status?

"They haven't graduated yet," Maddon said. "I want them to just go play; I don't want them to feel that responsibility yet."

Carrie Muskat has covered the Cubs since 1987, and for MLB.com since 2001. She writes a blog, Muskat Ramblings. You can follow her on Twitter @CarrieMuskat and listen to her podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.