Opening Day Wrigley Field
The Chicago Cubs open the 2011 regular season on April 1st at home against the Pittsburgh Pirates. The Cubs have a lot of questions to answer before that Friday afternoon, which, knowing Wrigley in April, will presumably be cold and rainy.
The team's rotation beyond the top three starters is up for grabs, the bench is unsettled and the bullpen has its own share of competition. In addition to handling those issues, manager Mike Quade must decide who his starters are at second base and in right field.
As far as the lineup goes, a couple things are set. Aramis Ramirez is entrenched in the lineup as the cleanup hitter, and sophomore shortstop Starlin Castro will likely return to the two-hole. The rest of the lineup, especially the leadoff spot, is still under construction.
Pirates starter Paul Maholm is in the cards to face Chicago on Opening Day, and his left-handed delivery would certainly impact Quade's lineup. Let's take a look at what that lineup would be as the Cubs face a southpaw to open the season.
The leadoff spot is up for grabs this spring. At the moment, guys like Blake DeWitt, Jeff Baker and Kosuke Fukudome are the leading candidates to become the Cubs' table setter, but Baker will surely hold down the duties against most left-handers.
Baker surprisingly only has seven starts at the top of the lineup card in his career, but he does hold a .419 average in that spot to go along with a slash line of .308/.363/.545 against lefties in his career.
The Cubs will hope he can carry last year's second half (.326 average) over to this season as they try to get off to a fast start.
Second-year shortstop Starlin Castro will once again man the two spot in the Cubs lineup. It fits him well because he will still have the protection of the three, four and five hitters as he continues to adjust to big league pitching.
In his rookie season, Starlin hit .307/.342/.402 when hitting second in the lineup and batted .339/.393/.504 against lefties. Opening Day in the two-spot against an "okay" lefty should create the perfect storm for this up-and-coming shortstop.
Marlon Byrd ended up having the bulk of his at-bats in the three spot for the Cubs in 2010. Not many would've guessed that 12 months ago.
Byrd is not the prototypical three hitter being that he doesn't have great power, but he does put up a great average and has the mentality to take on the responsibility. He doesn't try to do too much and isn't fazed by the pressure of the moment, which makes him a good fit for this spot.
Like many other Cubs, Byrd crushes lefties and hit .357 against southpaws in his first year with Chicago.
Aramis Ramirez should not have a problem finding motivation to perform well in 2011. He is coming off his worst season as a Cub and is entering a contract year before hitting free agency this November.
He could have been a fit for the three spot with Derrek Lee out of town, but he only started one game in that spot last season, making it an unlikely scenario.
Ramirez will have his sights set on a monster summer as he approaches 300 home runs for his career.
Carlos Pena is Jim Hendry's latest edition of an impact bat that can hit from the left side. The Cubs just hope he can provide a little more power than Kosuke Fukudome and Milton Bradley did during their time in the five hole.
Pena's left-handed swing breaks up a primarily right-handed batting order, but he shouldn't bat too high against Paul Maholm given his career .218 batting average against southpaws.
One thing working in Pena's favor in 2011 as he tries to rebound from a horrible 2010 is that he no longer plays in the AL East and is away from top left-handed starters like CC Sabathia, Jon Lester, Ricky Romero and Brian Matusz.
Alfonso Soriano was able to improve his batting average, on-base percentage and slugging percentage in 2010 after a dismal 2009 season.
He seems to have found a home in the six spot with the Cubs, and that is where he performed best last season despite also getting more than 10 starts as the team's five and seven hitter.
Soriano hit lefties better than righties last year, but his inconsistent approach limits him from batting higher in the order.
Geovany Soto takes this spot in the lineup whether a righty or lefty is on the mound and is arguably the best seven hitter in the National League.
Throughout his career, the bulk of his starts have been with him hitting in the seven spot, and he has produced a slash line of .287/.370/.514 in that spot.
It was difficult to settle on a starter for the right field position, especially when facing a southpaw hurler.
The Cubs have a rare lefty/lefty platoon in right field with Kosuke Fukudome and Tyler Colvin. Fukudome offers a better on-base percentage and defense, while Colvin is more of a power threat.
Kosuke gets the nod in this situation, however, for a few reasons. He is known as a player who normally gets off to a hot start, he hits lefties slightly better than Colvin and his defense will be valued early in the season, when Wrigley is still experiencing gusts of winter winds.
Against right-handed pitchers, Fukudome and Colvin could quite possibly be the team's leadoff hitters.
Cubs manager Mike Quade has already announced that his Opening Day starter will be Ryan Dempster, who edged out Carlos Zambrano and Matt Garza for the honor.
Dempster was probably the safest choice of the three, though he has experienced trouble against Pittsburgh throughout his career. He has a 6-10 record against the Pirates in 45 career games, 20 of which were starts.