MESA, Ariz. -- Joe Maddon admitted he's having some fun playing with potential lineup combinations. Should he bat the pitcher eighth and Addison Russell ninth again? Russell does have the potential to provide some pop. Maybe he should be higher up?
"I was just screwing around a little bit and looking at the [designated hitter] lineup, and my God, hitting [Russell] ninth sounds pretty good," Maddon said Saturday. "When you're playing an American League lineup with that kind of thickness [depth] -- I don't know if I'm going to do that, I'm just saying I did that last night and it looks pretty firm.
"You look at eight, seven, six, five [in the lineup] and it makes sense [to have Russell ninth]. Last year, I was trying to protect him. If I was to do it this year, it would not be so much for protection but a function of the whole group."
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The Cubs lineup has gotten better with the addition of Jason Heyward and Ben Zobrist, the return of Dexter Fowler, and the success the young players had. Will it be Fowler, then Zobrist at the top? Not necessarily, Maddon said.
"Zo could hit three, Jason could hit two, and on Dexter's day off, you could put Zobrist in the one hole," Maddon said. "If you put Dex, Jason and Zo in front of [Kris Bryant] and [Anthony Rizzo], they should be at the dinner table a lot doing it that way. I don't know yet. It's nice problems to have."
Plus, where do Kyle Schwarber and Jorge Soler fit? No wonder Maddon is scribbling some possible combos.
"I've always talked about when you send the lineup over to the other side, or they send it to me, and you look at it and start to look for that hole, it's very difficult when you send [the Cubs] lineup to the other side -- how do you play through this?" he said. "There's really no soft spots. If you're able to move really good hitters down in the lineup, it just means you're thick all the way."
However, Maddon also is experienced enough to know that teams can experience some speed bumps along the way.
"The reality is some guys are going to struggle, somebody may get hurt -- there are so many variables," he said. "Having this depth and the ability to rest people if they're struggling, you go in there and we feel good about it."
Carrie Muskat is a reporter for MLB.com. 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.