Schwarber finds his groove again as Cubs pull out much-needed win


Schwarber finds his groove again as Cubs pull out much-needed win

Forget pitching. The Cubs offense can take it from here (for one game, at least).

The Cubs (75-56) climbed back from deficit after deficit Tuesday, finally breaking through for a 5-4 win over the Reds (54-77) in front of 33,756 fans at Wrigley Field.

Kyle Schwarber delivered the big blow - a two-out, go-ahead homer into the left-center field bleachers in the bottom of the seventh.

Schwarber had been mired in a 1-for-14 slump before Tuesday and carried just a .122 average and .493 OPS over his last 11 games.

But it looks like he may have found his rhythm again as he singled, walked and scored three runs on top of his 13th big-league homer.

"He provided a spark for us," Kris Bryant said before acknowledging that nobody really needed to talk Schwarber through his slump. "He's got a good head on his shoulders. He trusts in his ability."

Joe Maddon actually had been predicting Schwarber's struggles for a while - "It's just hard to maintain that level of play or excellence at the plate, especially for a first-year guy for that long" - and the Cubs manager also believed Schwarber showed signs of coming out of his funk when he drew a fourth-inning walk.

In the next two at-bats, Schwarber ripped a single up the middle (clocked at 109 mph exit velocity) and then the two-run homer.

"I was putting a little pressure on myself," Schwarber said. "I just need to stick to the basics and stick to my approach and be more patient."

After allowing 13 runs (six unearned) Monday night, Cubs pitchers again struggled to keep Reds hitters off balance, allowing solo runs in the first, fifth, sixth and seventh innings.

[NBC SHOP: Gear up, Cubs fans!]

Maddon spoke pregame about how he wants to see starting pitchers go deeper in games, but Dan Haren only managed to make it through five innings before giving way to the bullpen.

Haren called it a "step forward," but also wished he could have thrown more than 73 pitches.

"Obviously in the situation I'm in, my leash is a little bit shorter," Haren said. "I understand what Joe's doing. Of course, I'd like to be out there for six, seven, eight innings and stuff, but definitely not going to complain about it.

"We've got a great bullpen, so we're gonna use it. We've got 30 or so games left. Every game, we're treating it like a playoff game. What I'm trying to do is just accept that and make the most with the amount of pitches or innings that I get."

Lefty Clayton Richard came in for the sixth and faced only two left-handed batters, allowing doubles to both before Justin Grimm pitched out of a jam.

Then Fernando Rodney served up a leadoff homer in top of the seventh, an emotional letdown after the Cubs had just rallied to tie the game the inning before.

But none of it mattered as the Cubs' slumping offense came through to pick up the pitching staff. All five of the runs came with two outs.

Bryant was 3-for-4, driving in the Cubs' first two runs of the game. Miguel Montero singled home another in the sixth inning and then Schwarber's blast put the Cubs ahead for good.

"It feels like the playoffs every night," Schwarber said.

Addison Russell is so over 2017: 'That's last year, don't want to talk about that'

Addison Russell is so over 2017: 'That's last year, don't want to talk about that'

MESA, Ariz. — “That’s last year, don’t want to talk about that.”

In other words, Addison Russell is so over 2017.

The Cubs shortstop went through a lot last year. He dealt with injuries that affected his foot and shoulder. He had a well-documented off-the-field issue involving an accusation of domestic abuse, which sparked an investigation by Major League Baseball. And then came the trade speculation.

The hot stove season rarely leaves any player completely out of online trade discussion. But after Theo Epstein admitted there was a possibility the Cubs could trade away one or more young position players to bolster the starting rotation, well, Russell’s name came up.

And he saw it.

“There was a lot of trade talk,” Russell said Saturday. “My initial thoughts were, I hope it doesn’t happen, but wherever I go, I’m going to try to bring what I bring to the table here. It’s a good thing that it doesn’t have to be that way. I’m happy being in a Cubs uniform, I want to be in a Cubs uniform, for sure. But there was some talk out there. If I got traded, then I got traded, but that’s not the case.”

No, it’s not, as the Cubs solved those pitching questions with free-agent spending, bringing in Yu Darvish and Tyler Chatwood to replace the departed Jake Arrieta and John Lackey. It means Russell, along with oft-discussed names like Kyle Schwarber, Ian Happ and Javy Baez, are all still Cubs.

While the outside world might have expected one of those guys to be moved in some sort of blockbuster trade for Chris Archer or some other All-Star arm, the Cubs’ young core remains intact, another reason why they’re as much a favorite to win the World Series as any team out there.

“I’m really not surprised. The core is still here. Who would want to break that up? It’s a beautiful thing,” Russell said. “Javy and I in the middle. Schwarber, sometimes playing catcher but mainly outfield. And then (Kris Bryant) over there in the hot corner, and of course (Anthony) Rizzo at first. You’ve got a Gold Glover in right field (Jason Heyward). It’s really hard to break that up.

“When you do break that down on paper, we’ve got a lineup that could stack up with the best.”

This winter has been about moving on for Russell, who said he’s spent months working to strengthen his foot and shoulder after they limited him to 110 games last season, the fewest he played in his first three big league campaigns.

And so for Russell, the formula for returning to his 2016 levels of offensive aptitude isn’t a difficult one: stay on the field.

“Especially with the injuries, I definitely wanted to showcase some more of my talent last year than I displayed,” Russell said. “So going into this year, it’s mainly just keeping a good mental — just staying level headed. And also staying healthy and producing and being out there on the field.

“Next step for me, really just staying out there on the field. I really want to see what I can do as far as helping the team if I can stay healthy for a full season. I think if I just stay out there on the field, I’m going to produce.”

While the decrease in being on the field meant lower numbers from a “counting” standpoint — the drop from 21 homers in 2016 to 12 last year, the drop from 95 RBIs to 43 can in part be attributed to the lower number of games — certain rate stats looked different, too. His on-base percentage dropped from .321 in 2016 to .304 last year.

Russell also struggled during the postseason, picking up just six hits in 36 plate appearances in series against the Washington Nationals and Los Angeles Dodgers. He struck out 13 times in 10 postseason games.

Of course, he wasn’t alone. That World Series hangover was team-wide throughout the first half of the season. And even though the Cubs scored 824 runs during the regular season, the second most in the National League and the fourth most in baseball, plenty of guys had their offensive struggles: Schwarber, Heyward and Ben Zobrist, to name a few.

“You can’t take anything for granted. So whenever you win a World Series or you do something good, you just have to live in the moment,” Russell said. “It was a tough season last year because we were coming off winning the World Series and the World Series hangover and all that. This year, we had a couple months off, a couple extra weeks off, and I think a lot of guys took advantage of that. I know I did. And now that we’re here in spring training, we’re going to get back at it.”

Cubs Talk Podcast: Discussing 5-man unit and where Montgomery fits into Cubs' plans


Cubs Talk Podcast: Discussing 5-man unit and where Montgomery fits into Cubs' plans

Jon Lester has arrived at Cubs camp, and he’s pleased with the new-look rotation full of potential aces. Kelly Crull and Vinnie Duber discuss the 5-man unit, and where Mike Montgomery fits into the Cubs’ plans.

Plus, Kelly and Vinnie talk Jason Heyward and Kyle Schwarber, along with the continuing free agent stalemate surrounding Jake Arrieta.

Listen to the full Cubs Talk Podcast right here: