Chicago Cubs manager Joe Maddon seems to have the magic touch these days. Whenever he makes an unusual move, it seems to work out in his favor. Even when he does things that seem to defy logic, Maddon comes out ahead.
He put that to the test Monday, during the Cubs’ 5-4 win over the Washington Nationals. The team’s official Twitter account teased that the lineup would be a bit strange earlier in the day, and a few minutes later, everyone knew what they were talking about.
Here’s how we’ll open our four-game set in D.C.
— Chicago Cubs (@Cubs) June 26, 2017
Yep. Catcher Willson Contreras was hitting in the leadoff spot. While anything that reminds us of Jason Kendall is welcome, it’s not like this type of thing happens all that often.
So, how did Contreras fare in his new role? He hit a home run to kick things off, of course.
In his first at-bat, Contreras belted a 90 mph fastball from Gio Gonzalez into the left field seats. Maddon’s antics worked again.
Contreras’ dinger is significant for two main reasons. First off, it’s pretty rare for catchers to lead off games with home runs.
Catcher with leading off game HR:
Willson Contreras (Today)
John Jaso (2 – 2010)
Paul Lo Duca (2 – 2001)
— Wilmer Reina (@WilmerReina) June 26, 2017
Only three players have accomplished the feat. John Jaso and Paul Lo Duca each hit two runs while leading off and catching.
The other reason the home run is significant is that it marks a pretty excellent stretch for Cubs’ leadoff hitters. Maddon made the bold choice to insert Anthony Rizzo into the role over the past 11 games. He rewarded that decision by hitting a home run in his first at-bat. During his 11 games in the top spot, Rizzo hit .333/.400/.714, with four home runs in just 50 plate appearances.
Now, you might ask yourself why Rizzo wasn’t used as a the leadoff hitter during Monday’s game. He’s been so good in the role, why change things up?
Prior to the game, Maddon said Rizzo was moved to second in the order because he’s struggled to hit Gonzalez over his career. Rizzo was hitting .100 over 20 at-bats against Gonzalez going into Monday’s game.
Maddon added that Rizzo would return to the top spot in the lineup Tuesday. That seems obvious based on how well he’s been playing lately, but Contreras may have given Maddon a little extra something to think about after his blast.
At the same time, it doesn’t appear to matter who leads things off for the Cubs. It feels like Maddon could hit the pitcher in the top spot and the result would be the same. Don’t laugh, Maddon’s crazy enough to try it.
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