Cubs

Joe Maddon explains decision to move Kyle Schwarber out of leadoff spot for Cubs

Joe Maddon explains decision to move Kyle Schwarber out of leadoff spot for Cubs

Kyle Schwarber wasn't in his usual leadoff spot for Saturday's scheduled Cubs-Brewers game, which was postponed due to rain.

Manager Joe Maddon released a new lineup with Ben Zobrist hitting first, followed by Schwarber — and the usual Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo.

It's no secret the Cubs slugger has struggled in the leadoff spot this season. Hitting .182/.305./.351 in 38 games, Schwarber has been looking to find consistency at the plate.

Maddon even came to his defense earlier this week when asked whether the slumping Schwarber would continue to hit first in a game against the Cincinnati Reds at Wrigley Field.

So Maddon's shakeup in the lineup doesn't exactly indicate his lack of confidence in Schwarber, but the Cubs manager does think it could help him get his bat going again.

"What I was looking at there was a couple things," Maddon said. "Zo’s been really good lately. We gave him that couple days off and he’s come out real nicely. And (Ian) Happ’s the new Zobrist. In other words he could protect Rizzo.

"The other component I thought we’ve talked a lot about Kyle hitting a lot of balls into the shift. If in fact Zo could get on a little more often, it might move that second baseman out of that spot. I don’t know, it might. So you look at Schwarber’s batting average, even Anthony’s, a lot is impacted by these shifts.

"Happ being here pretty much permits me to thinking that way and the fact that he’s done so well. Cause I was always concerned about Zo leaving that spot, but just imagine that today if I put Zo up there and Happ wasn’t there behind Rizzo, what that would look like. I wouldn’t feel as good about it. A lot of different parts. I was thinking about it last night coming into today and I thought it made sense."

In 36 games, Zobrist has three homers and 14 RBIs with a .246/.348/.385 slash line this year.

Maddon said that Schwarber's move out of the leadoff spot isn't necessarily permanent. 

"It just depends," Maddon said. "The biggest thing is just to get him untracked a little bit confidence-wise. Started the shift several years ago and a lot of your own guys hate you now. That’s just the fact that they’re hitting into this positioning a lot. So we’ll see. We’ll see how it all plays out."

Maddon's lineup had another new/old look.

After missing two weeks with a finger injury, Jason Heyward's return to the lineup was put on hold on Saturday. The 27-year-old outfielder was set to bat sixth and play right field.

On Thursday, Heyward had a rehab assignment with the South Bend Cubs, where he went 1-for-3 with an RBI single. After the game, Heyward said he felt no pain and was ready to return to the big club.

Though it's not official, Tommy La Stella is expected to be optioned to Triple-A Iowa as a corresponding move.

Feeding off their defense, Cubs starting to feel those 2016 vibes

Feeding off their defense, Cubs starting to feel those 2016 vibes

A year ago, the Cubs were struggling to float above .500, sitting 1.5 games behind the first-place Brewers.

Two years ago, the Cubs were10.5 games up on the second-place Cardinals in the division and already in cruise control to the postseason.

As they entered a weekend series in Cincinnati at 42-29 and in a tie for first place, the Cubs are feeling quite a bit more like 2016 than 2017.

The major reason? Energy, as Joe Maddon pointed out over the weekend.

That energy shows up most often on defense.

The 2016 Cubs put up maybe the best defensive season in baseball history while last year they truly looked hungover.

After a big of a slow start to 2018, the Cubs are feelin' more of that '16 swag.

If you watched either of the wins against the Los Angeles Dodgers this week at Wrigley Field, it's clear to see why: the defense.

"I like the defense," Maddon said of his team last week. "I'm into the defense. There's a tightness about the group. There's a closeness about the group. Not saying last year wasn't like that, but this group is definitely trending more in the '16 direction regarding interacting.

"If anything — and the one thing that makes me extremely pleased — would be the continuation of the defense. We've fed so much off our defense in '16. We've been doing that more recently again. We do so much good out there, then we come in and it gets kinda electric in the dugout. I'd like to see that trend continue on defense."

The Cubs scored only 2 runs in 10 innings in the second game against the Dodgers Tuesday night and managed just 4 runs in the finale Wednesday. Yet their gloves helped hold the Dodgers to only 1 run combined between the two games.

Wednesday's game was a defensive clinic, with Jason Heyward throwing out Chris Taylor at home plate with an incredible tag by Willson Contreras while Javy Baez, Albert Almora Jr., Kris Bryant and Kyle Schwarber all hit the ground to make sprawling/diving plays.

"[Almora] comes in and dives for one and I'm just like, 'OK, I'm done clapping for you guys,'" Jon Lester, Wednesday's winning pitcher, joked. "It's expected now that these guys make these plays. It's fun on our end. It's the, 'Here, hit it. Our guys are really good out there and they're gonna run it down.'"

The Heyward throw, in particular, jacked the team up. 

Maddon compared it to a grand slam with how much energy it provided the Cubs. Almora said he momentarily lost his voice because he was screaming so much at the play.

There was also Baez making plays in the hole at shortstop, then switching over to second base and turning a ridiculous unassisted double play on a liner in the 8th inning.

"That's what we're capable of doing," Maddon said. "In the past, when we've won on a high level, we've played outstanding defense. It never gets old to watch that kind of baseball."

The Cubs are back to forcing opposing hitters to jog off the field, shaking their head in frustration and disbelief.

"It could be so dispiriting to the other side when you make plays like that," Maddon said. "And also it's buoyant to your pitchers. So there's all kinds of good stuff goin' on there."

A lot of that is the play of the outfield, with Almora back to himself after a down 2017 season and Schwarber turning into a plus-rated defensive outfield.

After finishing 19th in baseball in outfield assists last season, the Cubs are currently tied for 6th with 14 outfield assists this year.

Schwarber has 7 alone, which is already as many as he tallied in the entire 2017 season.

"I feel like they'll learn quickly on Schwarber, if they haven't yet," Heyward said. "You gotta earn that respect. You gotta earn that sense of caution from the third base coach.

"But please keep running on me in those situations. I want it to happen."

Brandon Morrow has a healthy sense of humor about his pants-related injury

Brandon Morrow has a healthy sense of humor about his pants-related injury

Brandon Morrow's body may not be healthy, but his sense of humor sure isn't on the disabled list.

The Cubs closer had to go on the DL Wednesday after he injured his back changing out of his pants early Monday morning when the Cubs returned home to Chicago after a Sunday night game in St. Louis.

The story made national rounds, not only in the baseball world, but resonating with non-sports fans, as well. After all, it's not every day a guy who gets paid millions for his athletic endeavors injures himself on a mundane every day activity.

But it's all good, because even Morrow can find the humor in the situation, Tweeting this out Thursday afternoon:

Morrow's back tightened up on him and didn't loosen up enough the next two days, making him unavailable for the Cubs doubleheader Tuesday at Wrigley Field.

The team decided to put him on the shelf Wednesday morning so an already-gassed bullpen wouldn't have more pressure during this stretch of 14 games in 13 days.

The Cubs are in Cincinnati this weekend for a four-game series with the Reds. Morrow is eligible to return from the DL next Wednesday in Los Angeles as the Cubs once again take on the Dodgers — Morrow's old team.

The 33-year-old pitcher is 16-for-17 in save chances this year while posting a 1.59 ERA, 1.15 WHIP and 25 strikeouts in 22.2 innings. He's only given up a run in 2 of his 26 outings as a Cub.