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Travis Wood wins fifth starter role for Chicago Cubs

4/4/2015

PHOENIX -- Here’s what you need to know about the Chicago Cubs' roster as the team inches closer to Opening night Sunday:

Starting Rotation: Manager Joe Maddon announced on Friday that after Jon Lester throws Sunday that Jake Arrieta will get the call Tuesday in Game 2 against St. Louis, followed by Jason Hammel on Wednesday. Travis Wood will start the road opener in Denver next Friday, followed by Kyle Hendricks on Saturday.

This means Edwin Jackson is headed to the bullpen as the long reliever/spot starter.

“He was very professional about everything,” Maddon said of Jackson.

Analysis: There’s nothing surprising in this news. Jackson didn’t have much of a chance to win the job over Wood as the latter still has more upside, but Wood will need to find his 2013 form again. The situation became clearer once Tsuyoshi Wada fell behind because of injuries. When he’s ready it’s unclear what the Cubs might do, but a lot can happen between now and then. For now, the Cubs have the right starting five pitchers.

Ross or Montero?: As of Friday afternoon Maddon still hadn’t announced his opening night catcher for Jon Lester but did indicate that David Ross will not be Lester’s personal guy for every start -- even if he is behind the plate Sunday.

Analysis: Regardless of Sunday, the overall philosophy against a personal catcher in this situation is the right call. It’s not like Miguel Montero is some rookie catcher -- he’s a good veteran receiver, as is Ross. And consider this: Lester is 0 for 46 in his career at the plate while Ross’ offensive skills have declined rapidly over the last few years. Do the Cubs really want them both in the batting order every five days? Probably not.

If anything, Ross should catch Wood. The pitcher could probably use Ross’ expertise more than anyone, and having Wood in the lineup is like having another regular hitter, so the Cubs could afford to play Ross.

Last roster spots: It’s still between Matt Szczur, Ryan Sweeney and Jonathan Herrera -- three players for two spots. The Cubs indicated they might wait until Sunday to make a decision. A minor trade isn’t out of the question either.

Analysis: Herrera has done a nice job as a spring invitee, but the Cubs will do more pinch-hitting in the outfield than in the infield, so keeping Szczur and Sweeney might be the way to go. Anthony Rizzo and Starlin Castro are never coming out of games, and the Cubs are set at second base with Tommy La Stella and Arismendy Alcantara. Both those players can play third if Mike Olt is hit for, so Herrera isn’t needed as much. Szczur can be used in left or center as a defensive replacement late in the game, and Sweeney has more value than Herrera because he is capable against left-handed pitching. Remember, whatever the roster looks like on Sunday can change by Tuesday, so the decision isn’t that big of a deal.

Batting order: Maddon said don’t read too much into his lineup for Friday’s exhibition game against the Arizona Diamondbacks, though Jorge Soler could find himself batting second again on Sunday.

Early in camp it looked like Soler might be a middle-of-the order guy. But now that Maddon is leaning towards batting his pitcher No. 8 it looks like Soler could move up considering the No. 2 spot could have more RBI opportunities in that scenario.

“Right now, as we speak today, I like the idea of the two leadoff hitters hitting No. 9 and No. 1,” Maddon said.

Recently, Maddon said the “geeks” upstairs were running the numbers to see what the advantages might be in batting the pitcher eighth. He says the difference is minimal but he simply likes how it “feels.”

Analysis: This is one of those splitting hairs things. General manager Jed Hoyer often preaches that debates over the lineup are wasted energy. Hoyer has often said that you should put your best hitters near the top and the other ones near the bottom. Right now, the idea of getting Soler more at-bats than say, Chris Coghlan, isn’t a bad thing. Maddon says he’ll be “experimenting” over the course of the first month.