Cubs Caravan to kick off Wednesday
Questions about 2009 batting order expected to be a hot topic
CHICAGO -- The questions will likely start during a morning visit to Northwestern Hospital on Wednesday. They'll carry over to Thursday, beginning at an elementary school appearance in Chicago, part of the Cubs Caravan tour, and extend to Fan Fest that night in Peoria, Ill.
Lou Piniella won't be able to escape it. It's the hot topic this winter now that the Cubs have added Aaron Miles and, more importantly, Milton Bradley.
What will the Cubs' lineup be?
Bradley, who signed a three-year, $30 million contract last week, has a vague idea of where he'll fit in.
"I expect to hit in the middle, drive in a lot of runs and produce a lot of W's," the switch-hitter said.
OK, but will he bat third, fourth, fifth or sixth? Will he be slotted between Derrek Lee and Aramis Ramirez? Or, should Bradley hit third, then Ramirez, then Lee? And what about Kosuke Fukudome?
If Piniella isn't asked during the two-day Cubs Caravan, which begins Wednesday, he can expect the Cubs Convention goers to pepper him with questions about the batting order. The sold-out winter Fan Fest begins Friday at the Chicago Hilton.
Cubs hitting coach Gerald Perry has been concocting different lineup combos in his head now that the team has more left-right balance with the addition of the two switch-hitters.
"Milton can hit anywhere from first to sixth," Perry said. "You can put him second or third. When we took off in Oakland [in 2006], we put him third. He did a heck of a job there. You could sandwich a left-hand bat between Lee and Ramirez or hit him fifth behind Ramirez. He's going to take his walks, he's going to battle pitchers. He'll give you quality at-bats."
Bradley led the American League in on-base percentage last season at .436. Ryan Theriot paced the Cubs and ranked eighth in the National League at .397, while Ramirez was 12th at .380, and Mark DeRosa, dealt to Cleveland on New Year's Eve, was 16th at .376.
Bradley said his approach doesn't change if he hits third, fourth or anywhere else.
"My focus at the plate is trying to get on base," he said. "A lot of people say they're trying to get a hit. I'm just trying to get on base. I'm going to make the pitcher throw me three strikes. If I get the first strike and it's a good one and that's what I want, I'll hit that one.
"For the most part, I want to make a pitcher work and I want to get a strike to hit," he said. "If I swing at strikes, I'll be successful."
Getting on base is more important because he can set up the other hitters. The Cubs have improved their on-base percentage the past two years since Perry took over as hitting coach. In 2006, the team batted .268 with a .319 on-base percentage and scored 716 runs. That year, the Cubs finished 66-96.
In 2007, Perry's first season with the team, the Cubs hit .271, raised the on-base percentage to .333 and scored 752 runs. They won the National League Central with an 85-77 record.
Last season again resulted in a Central title as the Cubs batted .278, hiked the on-base percentage to .354 and scored 855 runs. They won 97 games, and the 855 runs led the NL and ranked second in the Major Leagues. It was the first time since 1998 that the Cubs had totaled 800 runs. The last time the Cubs posted a better batting average was 1937, when the team collectively hit .287.
Miles, another switch-hitter, batted .317 (.315 against left-handed pitchers; .317 against right-handers), and had an on-base percentage of .355. He hit second the majority of the time last season with the St. Louis Cardinals and most likely will hit there with the Cubs.
Piniella wanted a left-handed bat for the middle of the order, which is why Bradley was acquired. Bradley is coming off his best offensive season, in which he hit 22 home runs, drove in 77, and drew a career-high 80 walks. What clicked?
"I started seeing things I didn't notice before," Bradley said. "When I was at Cleveland [in 2001-03], Eddie Murray always talked about approach and what to look for when you go to the plate. He was right on every time.
"As time went on, I went to [Los Angeles] to play and I tried to do too much and tried to become a home run hitter," he said of his two seasons with the Dodgers in 2004-05. "I'll hit home runs, but they'll come naturally. I got bigger and stronger, and the home runs came.
"But I'm a line-drive hitter, high on-base kind of guy," Bradley said. "I think working with Rudy [Jaramillo, Rangers hitting coach] there, he just brought it out. I think there's still more there. [Jaramillo] said, 'You've got a lot left in you kid,' and I think this is the time for it to flourish."
Jaramillo also helped DeRosa, who batted a career-high .296 in 2006 with Texas. Bradley and Perry worked together in Oakland in '06, and the two have a good relationship. During the postseason that year, the hitting coach took Bradley aside for a little pep talk.
"He was telling me, 'It's not about you, it's about the team,'" Bradley said. "I took that into the next game and hit a home run, and I think I hit .500 from then on out. [Perry] set me straight."
In the American League Division Series that year against Minnesota, Bradley went 0-for-8 in the first two games, then had his pep talk. He hit a two-run homer in Game 3 off Brad Radke that helped the Athletics advance. In the AL Championship Series against Detroit, Bradley went 9-for-14, including a 4-for-5 performance in Game 2, when he hit two home runs.
That's what the Cubs are looking for. Bradley did bat third, by the way, in those games.
Got some ideas on what the lineup should be? This week will be a good opportunity to tell Piniella.
Carrie Muskat is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.