Cubs: Theo Epstein weighs in on Joe Maddon’s lineup tinkering with Kyle Schwarber

Cubs: Theo Epstein weighs in on Joe Maddon’s lineup tinkering with Kyle Schwarber

When the baseball boss says the team hasn’t been playing with an edge – and insists virtually all the answers are already inside the clubhouse – it doesn’t look good for the manager.

The Cubs finally winning the World Series cemented Hall of Fame status for Theo Epstein and Joe Maddon. But eight months later, the defending champs keep struggling to get above .500 and gain any sort of traction in a weak National League Central. 

That adds another layer of intrigue as the Cubs desperately try to jumpstart their season, creating a fascinating clubhouse/front-office dynamic after the All-Star break and leading into the July 31 trade deadline.

So with Kyle Schwarber returning from Triple-A Iowa on Thursday, did the Cubs have a conversation about where he would hit in the lineup against the Milwaukee Brewers?

“Today, no,” Epstein said before an ugly 11-2 loss.

Maddon publicly toyed with the idea of making Schwarber the leadoff hitter again, but ultimately slotted him fifth against Brewers right-hander Zach Davies. Epstein said “I think we don’t know” if the leadoff experiment contributed to Schwarber’s offensive spiral.

“My thoughts on that are it’s impossible to know,” Epstein said. “I think it makes sense today to put him where he’s at. I think Joe made a good decision putting him in the middle of the order, down in the order a little bit.

“But there are some things you can know about baseball – and some things you can’t know – and that’s one that’s almost impossible to tell.”

Would you just as soon leave Schwarber out of the leadoff spot, at least until further notice?

“I would just as soon leave that up to Joe, which is the way it always is,” Epstein said.

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Was that part of the overall conversation before you made the decision to bring back Schwarber?

“It came up for about 10 seconds,” Epstein said, “because Joe sort of thought about the lineup tomorrow. It’s his call. I gave my input, but it’s ultimately his call.”

Epstein sounded a little annoyed during a media session that lasted 11-plus minutes, maybe because some TV guy kept jabbing him with a microphone while he sat in the home dugout.

For his part, Schwarber doesn’t think Maddon’s well-intentioned, well-thought-out idea to bat him leadoff – which initially came with the front office’s stamp of approval – contributed to his .171 average and .673 OPS.

“It doesn’t matter,” Schwarber said. “It’s not because I was hitting first or I was hitting eighth or whatever it was. It was because something wasn’t working right. I feel like I pretty much know where I am right now – and I’m looking forward to being up here and helping the team win.”

Summer of Sammy: Sosa's 12th + 13th homers in 1998


Summer of Sammy: Sosa's 12th + 13th homers in 1998

It's the 20th anniversary of the Summer of Sammy, when Sosa and Mark McGwire went toe-to-toe in one of the most exciting seasons in American sports history chasing after Roger Maris' home run record. All year, we're going to go homer-by-homer on Sosa's 66 longballs, with highlights and info about each. Enjoy.

An off-day did nothing to slow down the 1998 National League MVP as Sosa collected his second straight 2-homer game May 27 of that season.

He went deep in the eighth and ninth innings of a Cubs' 10-5 loss to the Philadelphia Phillies at Wrigley Field, driving in 3 runs. 

The first homer - off Darrin Winston - was an absolute blast, traveling an estimated 460 feet. The second shot was tame in comparison with only 400 feet as a recorded distance.

In a matter of two games, Sosa raised his season OPS from .930 to .988 and his slugging percentage from .521 to .577 thanks to a pair of 2-homer contests.

Fun fact: Doug Glanville - former Cubs outfielder and current NBC Sports Chicago analyst - was the Phillies leadoff hitter that day in 1998, collecting three hits and scoring a pair of runs.

Yu Darvish back on the DL for Cubs with triceps tendinitis


Yu Darvish back on the DL for Cubs with triceps tendinitis

Yu Darvish now has more trips to the disabled list in a Cubs uniform than wins.

The Cubs place their 31-year-old right-handed pitcher on the DL Saturday evening with right triceps tendinitis. The move is retroactive to May 23, so he may only have to miss one turn through the rotation.

In a corresponding move, Randy Rosario was recalled from Triple-A Iowa to provide Joe Maddon with another arm in the bullpen. Tyler Chatwood will start Sunday in Darvish's place.

Thanks to two off-days on the schedule last week, the Cubs should be fine with their rotation for a little while. Jon Lester could go on regular rest Monday, but the Cubs would need to make a decision for Tuesday given Kyle Hendricks just threw Friday afternoon.

That decision could mean Mike Montgomery moving from the bullpen to the rotation for a spot start, or it could be the promotion of top prospect Adbert Alzolay from Triple-A Iowa.

Either way, this is more bad news for Darvish, who has had a rough go of it since he signed a six-year, $126 million deal with the Cubs in February.

Between issues with the weather, the concern of arm cramps in his debut in Miami, leg cramps in Atlanta, a trip to the disabled list for the flu, trouble making it out of the fifth inning and now triceps tendinitis, it's been a forgettable two months for Darvish.

He is 1-3 with a 4.95 ERA, 1.43 WHIP and 49 strikeouts in 40 innings with the Cubs.

Over the course of 139 career starts, Darvish is 57-45 with a 3.49 ERA, 1.19 WHIP and has averaged 11 strikeouts per nine innings.