Looking back on Sunday night, after Koji Uehara nailed down the Cubs' 7-6 victory and sweep of the Cardinals, the moment was largely lost. But it was impossible to miss when it happened.Kyle Schwarber, a postseason hero in his first two seasons with the Cubs, was dropped to seventh in
Looking back on Sunday night, after Koji Uehara nailed down the Cubs' 7-6 victory and sweep of the Cardinals, the moment was largely lost. But it was impossible to miss when it happened.
Kyle Schwarber, a postseason hero in his first two seasons with the Cubs, was dropped to seventh in the batting order on Friday by Joe Maddon, who up until that point had certainly been patient. Schwarber had hit only eight home runs through May, not nearly enough to go with a .165 batting average and a .286 on-base percentage.
Earlier last week, while the Cubs were on an 0-6 trip to Los Angeles and San Diego, Maddon had indicated that the left-handed-hitting Schwarber would essentially be a platoon player, sitting the bench against left-handers. But what happened on Friday was still shocking.
With the bases loaded and the score tied 2-2 in the sixth inning, Maddon pinch hit Albert Almora Jr. for Schwarber against lefty reliever Tyler Lyons.
Mike Matheny countered by bringing in right-hander Matt Bowman, and Maddon went back to his bench for Jonathan Jay … who grounded into a double play. This was a painful sequence for everyone involved, except Matheny and Bowman.
But the Cubs would rally to win, 3-2, setting the stage for Saturday's dramatics.
Schwarber was in the lineup against Mike Leake, but Maddon hit him ninth -- not exactly where you expect to find a slugger hanging out. He grounded out in his first at-bat, struck out in his second. The Cards had lefty Kevin Siegrist warming up when Leake ran into trouble in the seventh. The bases were loaded with two outs for Schwarber, who had hit a monster home run off Siegrist in the 2015 National League Division Series (the ball is encased in glass atop the right-field video board).
Maddon said afterward he would have given Schwarber a chance against Siegrist, but we'll never know for sure. Leake convinced Matheny he could retire Schwarber for a third straight time, so Matheny let him stay in. Oops. Schwarber drove Leake's first pitch -- a 91-mph sinker left over the middle of the plate -- into the seats in left-center field for one of the seven grand slams around Major League Baseball on Saturday.
The Cubs took a 5-3 lead and would go on to win by that score. They finished the sweep on Sunday with another comeback victory, in which Schwarber (still hitting ninth) patiently walked three times, the second of which preceded a three-run homer by Ian Happ, who has supplanted the penciled in Jay/Almora platoon in center field.
Happ, who homered in his Major League debut on May 13 in St. Louis, entered the weekend in a 2-for-28 slump in which he had struck out 13 times and walked only twice. His batting average had dropped to .214, and while Maddon still loved him, it was getting hard to see why.
But Maddon, no doubt in heavy consultation with Theo Epstein's analysts, decided to give the switch-hitting Happ a look in the leadoff spot this weekend. (Pat on the back here: This was one of the suggestions I made last week in a "5 Issues, 5 Solutions'' column.)
Happ went 4-for-12 in the series, with a double on Friday and a two-homer, four-RBI game on Sunday night. He was feeling so good afterward that he confirmed to reporters he'd moved out of his Chicago hotel and into an apartment.
The Cubs have moved over .500 (28-27) and reclaimed the home-field advantage they had throughout the 103-win stroll in 2016.
They were swept by the Yankees and Pirates during a stretch where they won only seven of their first 16 home games, but they enter Monday night's game against the Marlins having won 10 of their past 12 at Wrigley Field.
With the exception of Anthony Rizzo and Kristopher Bryant, the Cubs have become a fascinating collection of moving parts.
Even shortstop is somewhat unsettled, with Maddon giving the slumping Addison Russell (.213/.296/.343) some time off in favor of Javier Baez recently. Jay has evolved into one of the NL's best bench players, but it's become tougher to find playing time for Almora, whose .265 batting average is better than all but two Cubs regulars.
The weekend contributions from Happ and Schwarber slam home the point that no team has as much position-player depth as the Cubs, who look ready to use it to go on a sustained run in June.
Phil Rogers is a columnist for MLB.com.