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.

Nationals 'love' Kris Bryant but potential holdup could stymie trade talks

Nationals 'love' Kris Bryant but potential holdup could stymie trade talks

With Anthony Rendon officially joining the Angels, the Nationals have a vacancy at third base.

Washington has options to replace Rendon; Josh Donaldson is still available in free agency, and Cubs third baseman Kris Bryant could potentially be had via trade.

The Nationals have reportedly inquired with the Cubs about Bryant, and while they “love” the 27-year-old, their focus is on Donaldson, according to MLB Network’s Jon Heyman. The Cubs would likely seek center fielder Victor Robles in a deal, a holdup on Washington's end, Heyman said.

From the Cubs perspective, it would make all the sense in the world to ask for Robles. He’s 22 years old, plays excellent defense (22 DRS in 2019, No. 1 in MLB by center fielders) and is only scratching the surface as a big-leaguer. Robles is projected to be a star, but Bryant already is one. If the Nationals want Bryant badly enough, they’ll have to sacrifice talent in a deal.

On the other hand, it’s easy to understand why Washington would be unwilling to trade Robles, who's under team control through 2024. Bryant will hit free agency after 2021, but if he wins his ongoing grievance case, he'll hit the open market after next season.

Nonetheless, if the Nationals do engage in Bryant trade talks, you can bet the Cubs will at least ask for Robles in return. A trade could be worked out without him, but for a Cubs team searching for better center field production, you've got to wonder who could be more enticing than Robles.

Click here to download the new MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams Cubs games easily on your device.

Willson Contreras and his boundless energy join Cubs All-Decade Team

Willson Contreras and his boundless energy join Cubs All-Decade Team

With the 2010s coming to a close, NBC Sports Chicago is unveiling its Cubs All-Decade Team, highlighting the players who made the biggest impacts on the organization from 2010-19.

It didn’t take long for Willson Contreras to introduce himself to Major League Baseball. On the first pitch he saw as a big-leaguer, the Cubs catcher cranked a two-run home run to center field — on Sunday Night Baseball, nonetheless.

That moment was a sign of things to come for Contreras, who has since established himself as one of the best catchers in baseball. The 27-year-old holds a career .267/.350/.470 line with a 117 wRC+ and 67 home runs in four seasons. He’s started back-to-back All-Star Games, the first Cubs catcher to do so since Gabby Hartnett (1937-38).

Contreras offers so much to the Cubs besides his bat. His cannon of an arm and athleticism behind the plate are integral to the Cubs controlling opposing run games. His pitch framing is a work in progress, and admittedly, he could improve in this area by throwing behind runners less, ensuring he gets strikes called.

However, back-picking is part of Contreras’ value. He may lose some strike calls by not sticking a frame, but there've been plenty of occasions where Contreras' arm has provided the Cubs with a spark. His boundless energy is unmeasurable, but its importance to the Cubs — who feed off of it — cannot be overstated.

There are areas where Contreras can improve, and that's a scary thought. But he's already is one of the best backstops in baseball and has earned the starting catcher spot on our Cubs All-Decade Team.

Also considered: Welington Castillo, Miguel Montero, David Ross, Geovany Soto