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CHGO Cubs roundtable: Looking at some of the Cubs' most intriguing early storylines

Ryan Herrera Avatar
April 5, 2022

Here it is everyone, the first week of 2022 with regular season baseball games on the docket.

Sure, Opening Day was supposed to have been last week, but all you’ve had to do was wait just one extra week to see Chicago baseball make its return. The Cubs host the Brewers at Wrigley Field on Thursday at 1:20 to kick off a four-game series to begin the year.

Despite looking like it’ll be a frigid afternoon, there are some hot storylines to follow for the early portion of Chicago’s season: What will the starting lineup look like on Opening Day? Will Kyle Hendricks rebound this season? Can Seiya Suzuki live up to the hype?

All that and more have been answered by our CHGO Cubs group in the first roundtable discussion of the season.

Let’s get into it.

1. Project the Cubs’ Opening Day starting lineup.

Ryan Herrera, CHGO Cubs beat writer: I’ve said before that Nick Madrigal is the type of contact-oriented hitter that belongs at the top of the order, and I’m sticking with that for Opening Day. Whether that lasts for long is going to be up to David Ross, but he’s the table setter in my projected lineup. As far as the rest of the group goes, it’ll certainly shift around a lot early in the season, but this is how I see it being constructed on Thursday:

  1. Nick Madrigal, 2B
  2. Rafael Ortega, DH
  3. Seiya Suzuki, RF
  4. Willson Contreras, C
  5. Frank Schwindel, 1B
  6. Ian Happ, LF
  7. Patrick Wisdom, 3B
  8. Nico Hoerner, SS
  9. Jason Heyward, CF

Cody Delmendo, CHGO Cubs content creator: To start the season, I believe the Cubs lineup will have a mixture of Schwindel-Happ-Suzuki-Contreras in the lineup and everyone else will be based on matchups. The Brewers Opening Day starter is reigning NL Cy Young award winner Corbin Burnes, a right-handed pitcher. It will be interesting to see how the Cubs manage matchups all season long.

  1. Rafael Ortega, CF
  2. Frank Schwindel, DH
  3. Ian Happ, LF
  4. Seiya Suzuki, RF
  5. Willson Contreras, C
  6. Jonathan Villar, 3B
  7. Nico Hoerner, SS
  8. Alfonso Rivas, 1B
  9. Nick Madrigal, 2B

Jared Wyllys, CHGO Cubs contributor: Especially with the expanded rosters in April, I think we will see a lot of lineup shifting during the first few weeks of the season. With that said, here’s who I think takes the field on Thursday:

  1. Rafael Ortega, CF
  2. Nick Madrigal, 2B
  3. Willson Contreras, C
  4. Frank Schwindel, 1B
  5. Seiya Suzuki, RF
  6. Patrick Wisdom, 3B
  7. Ian Happ, DH
  8. Clint Frazier, LF
  9. Nico Hoerner, SS

Kyle Williams, CHGO Cubs contributor: This is the type of roster that manager David Ross is going to love tinkering with over the season. It’s unlikely that we see a set lineup throughout the 2022 season, but here’s what it will look like on Opening Day

  1. Nick Madrigal, 2B
  2. Nico Hoerner, SS
  3. Frank Schwindel, 1B
  4. Willson Contreras, C
  5. Seiya Suzuki, RF
  6. Patrick Wisdom, 3B
  7. Ian Happ, DH
  8. Clint Frazier, LF
  9. Jason Heyward, CF

2. The first four games of the season come at Wrigley Field against the Brewers. How do you see that series going, and what will that tell you about how the early part of the season will go?

Herrera: The Cubs won’t get swept by the Brewers, but it’ll be tough for them to take more than one. Chicago will go up against Corbin Burnes, Brandon Woodruff and Freddy Peralta in the first three games of the season, and regardless of how well Hendricks, Justin Steele and Marcus Stroman pitch when matched up with them, offense will be tough to come by. The matchup between Stroman and Peralta on Saturday does feel like the most intriguing of the bunch, and if the Cubs can take that game plus another somewhere in the series, that would certainly be a boost for the team as the 2022 campaign gets underway.

Delmendo: I said on the CHGO Cubs podcast last week that if the Cubs managed to split the series with Milwaukee, it would be a sign of good things to come. The Brewers rotation is elite, but it’s a new season and the Cubs lineup is much different compared to what the Brewers have seen the last four seasons. This is a series the contact-heavy lineup could actually really benefit the Cubs.

Wyllys: A series split may sound like a cop-out answer, but the Cubs have improved just enough to ride the adrenaline wave of being in front of the Wrigley crowd and snag a win or two from the Brewers. Milwaukee is still the team to beat in the division, and it will be the Cardinals who put up the most fight in that regard. The first few weeks of the season will be about seeing just how much better the Cubs actually are. Stroman is a major boost to the rotation, and we will need to see how well Hendricks can bounce back from a rough 2021 season. Offensively, there are a lot of things to keep an eye on, but the biggest question marks might be whether Schwindel and Wisdom can sustain last year’s late-season success over the course of a full slate of games.

Williams: I think the Cubs will drop three out of four against Milwaukee. The Brewers finished 15-4 against the Cubs last year and only minimal roster changes were made on the North Side. This season is all about seeing who will be a part of that “Next Great Cubs Team.” The pitching staff was dreadful last season, and even though the Cubs added Stroman, the rotation is still a mystery after him and Hendricks. Wade Miley is expected to start the season on the injured list, which weakens the rotation further. The Cubs should be able to compete or win their series against the Pirates and the Rockies, but those three-game series against the Rays and the defending World Series champion Braves will be difficult for a team in year one of a retool.

3. Willson Contreras will be the Opening Day catcher, but that might not be the case for long. How far will we get into the season before Contreras is no longer a member of the Cubs?

Herrera: I’m going to be bold here and say Contreras actually finishes the season on the Cubs. Signing Stroman and Seiya Suzuki signals that Jed Hoyer and Co. see this as a team that can be competitive now without sacrificing the future. There have to be players on the current roster than Hoyer sees as pieces on “the next great Cubs team,” and Contreras can still be one of them.

Sure, last year saw three of the biggest pieces of the old core dealt at the trade deadline, and yes, Contreras enters this season in the same boat as them. However, not every situation is the same, and there’s certainly a scenario where the team is competitive enough that both sides see an extension as a better option than a trade. Things will have to fall the right way for that to happen, but that feels a little more likely than Cubs fans going through another round of a World Series hero getting traded out of Chicago.

Delmendo: Contreras will finish the season with the Cubs, and I’ll believe that until something happens that changes that belief.

Wyllys: I think this depends a lot on how long of a rebuild Jed Hoyer wants to commit to. Based on his comments last July, it doesn’t seem like he is up for a years-long, to-the-studs teardown. And by signing Stroman and Seiya Suzuki this offseason, Hoyer seems to be signaling that he thinks he can get this team competitive again quickly. For that reason, I think Hoyer might surprise us and get an extension done for Contreras and avoid trading him. Although the market in July would be a great one, unless other teams are offering close to major league-ready talent, I think Contreras sticks around.

Williams: I’ll give it until July. Catcher is a position that isn’t as easy to trade during the season, but the DH will help broaden Contreras’ trade suitors. Given the team’s track record, I doubt a long-term contract will get resolved between both sides. We’ve seen that Hoyer is adept at dealing stars in the last year of their contract.

4. David Ross recently confirmed to reporters at Cubs camp that Kyle Hendricks will be the Cubs’ Opening Day starter. How do you predict he’ll perform against Milwaukee, and how do you think that shows what his 2022 season will be?

Herrera: The Cubs need a rebound season from Hendricks, and that has to start on Thursday. The last time MLB went through an atypical spring training in 2020, Hendricks earned his first Opening Day start, and that turned into a complete-game shutout against the Brewers for Hendricks that kicked off a season in which he went 6-5 and put up a 2.88 ERA and just below a 1.00 WHIP. Now, Hendricks will open the season on the bump once again against Milwaukee, a year after he put up some of the worst numbers of his career. The 2022 season, though, should be a resurgent one for Hendricks.

As far as a prediction for Thursday goes, I don’t see another complete-game shutout coming, but I could certainly see a quality start that ushers in a bounce-back campaign for Hendricks.

Delmendo: Hendricks historically has pitched well against Milwaukee. His performance on Opening Day won’t tell us much about what is to come in 2022, but it will definitely allow Cubs fans to breathe some considering his awful spring training.

Wyllys: Hendricks has traditionally done well against Milwaukee, and even though he had an atrocious April last season, I think we see the first sign of his bounce-back season on Thursday. The weather on Opening Day might work in his favor — forecasted low 40s and a bit of rain — by keeping balls in play on the ground and out of the air. Hendricks had a career-worst home run rate in 2021, and I expect we see that come back down to his normal career range this year.

Williams: Hendricks has a career 3.30 ERA against the Brewers. The 6.14 ERA Hendricks posted against the Brewers in 2021 was the highest of his career. I think Hendricks will perform well this time around against the Brewers. Hopefully, Hendricks finds his fastball and keeps it “down and away,” as he detailed to The Athletic’s Sahadev Sharma. The defense for the Cubs wasn’t bad — they finished 11th in Ultimate Zone Rating and 13th in Defensive Runs Saved — but they’ll need a repeat performance due to the number of groundball pitchers on the roster. That said, I believe Hendricks will have a resurgent season.

5. Seiya Suzuki’s two home runs over the past few spring games has gotten fans buzzing. Adjustment period aside, what would you like to see out of Suzuki once his Cubs tenure begins?

Herrera: What really needs to happen is that Suzuki shows a solid approach at the plate right away. It’s expected that he’ll have some struggles adjusting to major league pitching, but that doesn’t mean a good approach can’t translate. If he can show that he’s not chasing pitches out of the zone, that he’s able to work a count, that he’s looking to use the whole field, etc., that’ll go a long way toward his success when he does make those adjustments to big league pitching.

Delmendo: Cubs fans were told Suzuki is elite defensive outfielder and a contact hitter that also has tons of power. I’m confident in an OPS over .800 in 2022.

Wyllys: The home runs in spring training might prove to have been deceptive. Not that Suzuki doesn’t have power; I think he will flirt with 30 homers this season. I think by the end of the season it will have been his contact rate and ability to hit for average that will showcase the kind of hitter Suzuki will be in Chicago.

Williams: I want to see high contact rate and above-average power from Suziki. After dealing with the all-or-nothing approach from the old core, it’s fair to say that the Cubs over-corrected by prioritizing contact over power.

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