Cubs

As Kyle Schwarber finds his groove, could he settle in at No. 2 spot in Cubs lineup?

As Kyle Schwarber finds his groove, could he settle in at No. 2 spot in Cubs lineup?

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."

Andre Dawson reportedly about to rejoin Cubs organization

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USA TODAY

Andre Dawson reportedly about to rejoin Cubs organization

Andre Dawson is about to get a welcome back to Sweet Home Chicago.

The Hall of Famer is reportedly about to rejoin the Cubs organization in some capacity, according to a Monday-morning tweet from USA Today's Bob Nightengale.

Nightengale didn't specify what Dawson's role will be, but the former Cubs outfielder has plenty of front-office and organizational experience after spending years with the Florida/Miami Marlins.

Dawson spent 21 seasons in the big leagues, six of those on the North Side. He was named to the National League All-Star team in five of those six seasons and won the NL MVP as a Cub in 1987.

Dawson went into the Hall of Fame in 2010, though he's sporting a Montreal Expos hat on his plaque after playing 11 seasons north of the border.

His longtime ties to the Marlins organization started when he spent the final two seasons of his career in Florida, appearing in 121 games for the Fish in 1995 and 1996. His relationship with that organization lasted until this year's ownership change.

There's no doubt that Dawson will be happily welcomed back to Chicago, both by the Cubs and by Cubs fans, no matter what his new position entails.

Why did Kris Bryant get a first-place vote in this year's National League MVP balloting?

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USA TODAY

Why did Kris Bryant get a first-place vote in this year's National League MVP balloting?

Kris Bryant was the 2016 National League MVP. And despite having what could be considered an even better campaign this past season, he finished seventh in voting for the 2017 edition of the award.

The NL MVP was awarded to Miami Marlins outfielder Giancarlo Stanton on Thursday night, a fine choice, though it was nearly impossible to make a poor choice, that's how many fantastic players there were hitting the baseball in the NL this season.

After Stanton, Cinicinnati Reds first baseman Joey Votto finished second, earning the same amount of first-place votes and losing out to Stanton by just one point. Then came Arizona Diamondbacks first baseman Paul Goldschmidt, Colorado Rockies third baseman Nolan Arenado, Rockies outfielder Charlie Blackmon and Washington Nationals third baseman Anthony Rendon ahead of Bryant.

But there was someone who thought Bryant deserved to repeat as the NL MVP. Yes, Bryant earned a first-place vote — as did everyone else mentioned besides Rendon, for that matter — causing a bit of a social-media stir considering the Cubs third baseman, despite his great season, perhaps wasn't as standout a candidate as some of the other guys who finished higher in the voting.

So the person who cast that first-place vote for Bryant, MLB.com's Mark Bowman, wrote up why he felt Bryant deserved to hoist the Kenesaw Mountain Landis Memorial Baseball Award for the second straight year.

"In the end, I chose Bryant because I believe he made the greatest impact, as his second-half production fueled the successful turnaround the Cubs experienced after the All-Star break," Bowman wrote.

"Though I don't believe the MVP must come from a playoff contender, in an attempt to differentiate the value provided by each of these three players (Bryant, Votto and Stanton), I chose to reward the impact made by Bryant, who produced the NL's fourth-best OPS (.968) after the All-Star break, when the Cubs distanced themselves from a sub-.500 record and produced an NL-best 49 wins."

It's easy for Cubs fans and observers to follow that logic, as the Cubs took off after the All-Star break following a disappointing first half. As good as Bryant was all season long, his second-half numbers, as Bowman pointed out, were especially great. He hit .325 with a .421 on-base percentage and a .548 slugging percentage over his final 69 games of the regular season, hitting 11 home runs, knocking out 21 doubles and driving in 35 runs during that span.

Perhaps the craziest thing about this year's MVP race and Bryant's place in it is that Bryant was just as good if not better than he was in 2016, when he was almost unanimously named the NL MVP. After slashing .292/.385/.554 with 39 homers, 102 RBIs, 35 doubles, 75 walks and 154 strikeouts in 2016, Bryant slashed .295/.409/.537 with 29 homers, 73 RBIs, 38 doubles, 95 walks and 128 strikeouts in 2017.

Of course, the competition was much steeper this time around. But Bryant was given the MVP award in 2016 playing for a 103-win Cubs team that was bursting with offensive firepower, getting great seasons from Anthony Rizzo (who finished third in 2016 NL MVP voting), as well as Dexter Fowler and Ben Zobrist. While the Cubs actually scored more runs this season and undoubtedly turned it on after the All-Star break on a team-wide basis, Bryant was far and away the best hitter on the team in 2017, with many other guys throughout the lineup having notably down years and/or experiencing down stretches throughout the season. Hence, making Bryant more, say it with me, valuable.

So Bowman's argument about Bryant's impact on the Cubs — a team that still scored 822 runs, won 92 games and advanced to the National League Championship Series — is a decently convincing one.

Check out Bowman's full explanation, which dives into some of Bryant's advanced stats.