Cubs

Miguel Montero’s future unclear as Schwarber sticks with Cubs

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Miguel Montero’s future unclear as Schwarber sticks with Cubs

MILWAUKEE — Cubs manager Joe Maddon confirmed the obvious: Kyle Schwarber is here to stay.

That keeps the fast-track catcher on a collision course with Miguel Montero, a two-time All-Star about to begin his rehab assignment with Double-A Tennessee. The Cubs can’t send Schwarber back to Triple-A Iowa when he’s hitting .338 with a .997 OPS.

“We want his bat in the lineup,” Maddon said even before Schwarber had a big impact on Saturday’s 4-2 win over the Milwaukee Brewers at Miller Park. “He’s done a nice job behind the plate, too. He’s shown versatility by playing in the outfield.

“I’d like to believe he’s here for awhile.”

That will leave Montero in another awkward position, with the Cubs already carrying David Ross to be Jon Lester’s personal catcher, a clubhouse leader and a quasi-coach (with another guaranteed season on his contract for 2016).

[MORE CUBS: Why didn’t Theo Epstein make a splash at the trade deadline?] 

Remember, it took until late May before the Cubs finally traded catcher Welington Castillo to the Seattle Mariners. Castillo wound up getting flipped to the Arizona Diamondbacks, the team that cleared payroll space by trading Montero to the Cubs for two pitching prospects at the winter meetings.

“Well, at this point, to be honest, (with) the way the season started, I’m not surprised about anything,” Montero said.

Montero speaks directly and says what’s on his mind. The Cubs wanted that edge to push their pitching staff and change their clubhouse culture.

The Cubs still owe Montero $28 million across the next two seasons, which would make him an expensive part for a three-catcher rotation (or a potential trade chip to create more financial flexibility).

“Of course, when I came here, I expected to play every day,” Montero said. “I don’t think you want to pay that much money to a guy to bench him.

“But that’s not my job. My job is to play and do what I’m capable of doing.”

At the time the Cubs acquired Montero, Schwarber had only played 72 games in professional baseball after getting drafted No. 4 overall out of Indiana University last year.

[RELATED: Starlin Castro relieved the trade deadline is over] 

There are still questions about whether or not Schwarber can be the long-term answer at catcher, but he has to be in the discussion about next year’s Opening Day roster.

Schwarber got a taste in June as a designated hitter for interleague play and took advantage of another opportunity when Montero sprained his left thumb just before the All-Star break. 

“This is a business, man, so anything can happen,” Montero said. “I don’t know what they’re thinking. I don’t know what they’re going to do. So like I said before, my job is just to come here and compete.

“Whenever I’m in the lineup, do my best. And if I’m not, try to help my teammates.

“Of course, I would like to be in the lineup. But I can’t control that.”

Schwarber launched his fourth home run on Saturday night, but his game-changing sequence came with two outs in the third inning. Schwarber worked an 11-pitch at-bat, lining Matt Garza’s 96 mph fastball into center field for a single. That patience combined with Chris Coghlan’s walk helped set up Anthony Rizzo’s three-run homer.

[NBC SPORTS SHOP: Gear up, Cubs fans]

“I’m going to keep working my butt off to stay up here,” Schwarber said.

At the age of 32, Montero still feels like he can catch every day, once he gets healthy again. He accounted for at least 1,000 innings behind the plate in each of the previous four seasons. He’s hitting .230 with 10 homers and 32 RBI this year.

It should also be pointed out that Montero worked closely with Castillo and developed a reputation as a good leader for the Diamondbacks, looking after young players from Latin America, taking them to Phoenix Suns games and out to dinner.

Montero would even watch minor-league games during spring training, believing prospects should feel comfortable and part of the organization.

“That’s not going to change,” Montero said, framing his relationship with Schwarber. “It ain’t his fault. So why am I going to take it out on him? It ain’t his fault. I want him to be the best that he can be. And he’s got the potential to be really good.”

Podcast: Cubs pass the first test in midst of crucial stretch

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Scott Changnon

Podcast: Cubs pass the first test in midst of crucial stretch

On the latest CubsTalk Podcast Scott Changnon and Tony Andracki discuss the state of the Cubs offense, the value of Javy Baez and Addison Russell and what it means now that the starting rotation looks to be finding its form.

With 17 games in 17 days (most of which come against contending teams), the Cubs started things off right with a series victory in St. Louis.

Listen to the entire podcast here:

The Cubs are in a way better spot than they were a year ago

The Cubs are in a way better spot than they were a year ago

ST. LOUIS — It's night and day watching the 2018 Cubs compared to the 2017 version.

Even with the injury to Javy Baez Sunday night, the Cubs are in a way better spot now than they were a year ago.

On June 17 of last season, the Cubs sat at 33-34 with a run differential of just +6.

They looked flat more often than not. "Hangover" was the word thrown around most and it was true — the Cubs really did have a World Series hangover.

They admit that freely and it's also totally understandable. Not only did they win one of the most mentally and physically draining World Series in history, but they also ended a 108-year championship drought and the weight of that accomplishment was simply staggering. 

The 2018 iteration of the Cubs are completely different. 

Even though they didn't finish off the sweep of their division rivals in St. Louis Sunday night, they're still only a half-game behind the Milwaukee Brewers in the NL Central and for the best record in the league. A +95 run differential paced the NL and sat behind only the Houston Astros (+157), Boston Red Sox (+102) and New York Yankees (+98) in the AL.

Through 67 games, the Cubs sat at 40-27, 13 games above .500 compared to a game below .500 at the same point last summer.

What's been the main difference?

"Energy," Joe Maddon said simply. "Coming off the World Series, it was really hard to get us kickstarted. It was just different. I thought the fatigue generated from the previous two years, playing that deeply into the year. A lot of young guys on the team last year.

"We just could not get it kickstarted. This year, came out of camp with a fresher attitude. Not like we've been killing it to this point; we've been doing a lot better, but I didn't even realize that's the difference between last year and this year.

"If anything, I would just pinpoint it on energy."

Of course the physical component is easy to see. The Cubs played past Halloweeen in 2016 and then had so many demands for street namings and talk shows and TV appearances and Disney World and on and on. That would leave anybody exhausted with such a shortened offseason.

There's also the mental component. The Cubs came into 2018 with a chip on their shoulder after running into a wall in the NLCS last fall against the Los Angeles Dodgers. They have a renewed focus and intensity.

But there's still plenty of room for more. The Cubs aren't happy with the best record and run differential in the NL. They know they still haven't fully hit their stride yet, even amidst a 24-13 stretch over the last five weeks.

"I think we've been pretty consistent," Jon Lester said. "We've had some ups and downs on both sides of the ball as far as pitching and hitting. But the biggest thing is our bullpen and our defense has been pretty solid all year.

"That's kept us in those games. When we do lose — you're gonna have the anomalies every once in a while and get blown out — we're in every single game. It's all we can do. Keep grinding it out.

"Our offense will be fine. Our defense and the back end of our bullpen has done an unbelievable job of keeping us in these games. And if we contribute as a starting five, even better. 

"You have the games where our guys get feeling sexy about themselves and score some runs. That's where the snowball effect and we get on that little bit of a run. I feel like we've been on a few runs, it just hasn't been an extended period of time. I don't have any concerns as far as inside this clubhouse."

Lester hit the nail on the head. The Cubs sit at this point with only 1 win from Yu Darvish, Tyler Chatwood struggling with command and low power numbers from several guys including Kris Bryant.

Throw in the fact that Joe Maddon's Cubs teams always seem to get into a groove in August and September when they're fresher and "friskier" than the rest of the league and this team is currently in very good shape for the remainder of the year. 

If they can get 3 wins away from the World Series after going 33-34, the sky should be the limit for a 2018 squad that's in a much better position 67 games in.