If the Cubs are going to have another deep postseason run this fall, they're going to need to lean heavily on Kyle Schwarber.
As the now-polarizing slugger climbs out of his midseason slump, Joe Maddon has moved Schwarber back up to the top of the lineup.
But not at leadoff, instead settling in with Schwarber in the two-hole, ahead of Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo.
That's the spot in the lineup where Schwarber has spent the most time in his career with 60 starts hitting second, plus Games 6 and 7 in the World Series.
After striking out in eight straight plate appearances from Saturday to Monday night, Schwarber then reached base in eight straight trips. After a first-inning single Thursday, his average raised to .200 on the season for the first time since May 9. Another couple of hits — including his 20th homer of the season — raised his season average to .204.
He's also making an impact in the field, where he threw out two runners at home plate in the first three games of the Reds series.
"All things considered, he's actually on a pretty good roll right now," Maddon said. "Watching the last couple days, it looks like things are getting shorter. The movements are getting shorter, he's making better decisions and it'd be great if we can just keep him in that two-slot right there.
"That's where he's been very successful either off of Jon Jay or [Ben] Zobrist [leading off]. I kinda like what that looks like right now. I think his confidence is coming back up.
"That's who he is; we know that's who he is. Sometimes, it just takes a while coming off missing a season. It just does. I just have a lot of faith in the guy."
Maddon is referring to Schwarber's knee injury that sapped all but a handful of games in 2016.
Sure, Schwarber returned after more than six months off and raked in the World Series, but a lot of that could be attributed to adrenaline or what was at stake. It's a whole new challenge to perform at that level day in and day out for an entire 162-game season, especially as teams learn his weakness and how to gameplan against him at the plate.
In 33 games since being recalled from Triple-A Iowa on July 6, Schwarber is hitting .278 with a. 381on-base percentage and .969 OPS.
He's been working on shortening his swing and battling with two strikes to at least put the ball in play or foul off tough pitches to work a walk. The results in the four-game series with the Reds are an extremely small sample size, but Schwarber and the Cubs are encouraged.
Maybe keeping him atop the lineup (against right-handed pitchers) could help move his resurgence along even more. He still doesn't figure to get many starts vs. left-handed pitchers anytime soon.
Schwarber has a .355 on-base percentage and .481 slugging percentage out of the two-spot and with Willson Contreras currently on the shelf, this may be the best way to structure the Cubs lineup — making a 2-3-4 heart of the order with Schwarber-Bryant-Rizzo. It worked perfectly in the first inning Wednesday as Zobrist, Schwarber and Bryant all reached ahead of Rizzo's grand slam.
Bryant has spent most of the year hitting two for the Cubs, but dropping him to third could create more RBI opportunities for the reigning MVP if Schwarber can continue to get on base at a high clip.
"To me, the typicaly two hitter these days, I'd much rather somebody that is really good to drive the baseball, drive in runs compared to [the traditional guy who hits-and-runs and bunts]," Maddon said. "I'd rather a guy up there who can really move the baseball and also accept his walks.
"I like that. Part of KB's allure is he's a very good baserunner. Schwarbs is a good baserunner. He's not as fast as KB is, but he's still a good baserunner, makes good decisions out there. I kinda like it."