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Cubs' formula for sweep? Two Kyles and CarGo

Hendricks works 7 innings, Schwarber fuels offense, Gonzalez homers
@MLBastian
June 10, 2019

CHICAGO -- The chant swept through the Wrigley Field stands during the ninth inning on Sunday night. It was the second time this season that the Cubs' faithful had the chance to band together for a chorus aimed in the direction of the rival Cardinals. "SWEEP! SWEEP! SWEEP!" For the

CHICAGO -- The chant swept through the Wrigley Field stands during the ninth inning on Sunday night. It was the second time this season that the Cubs' faithful had the chance to band together for a chorus aimed in the direction of the rival Cardinals.

"SWEEP! SWEEP! SWEEP!"

For the final out of Chicago's 5-1 victory, Matt Carpenter pulled a fastball on the ground past diving first baseman Anthony Rizzo. Playing in a pull shift, shortstop Javier Baez ranged to his left in shallow right field, scooped up the ball and fired it to Pedro Strop at first base. The reliever got to the bag in time and pumped his fist hard as the North Side crowd erupted.

Box score

Led by a strong start from Kyle Hendricks and another solid day at the plate from Kyle Schwarber, the Cubs completed a three-game brooming of the Cardinals. That dropped St. Louis under the break-even mark and gave the Cubs a 6-0 record over their rival at home this year. As it happens, the Cardinals dealt the Cubs a sweep at Busch Stadium last weekend.

"It's just one of those things, man," Cubs manager Joe Maddon said. "They're good. We're good. Nobody's going away. This division's going to be tight all summer. I like the energy with which we're playing right now."

Here are three takeaways from Sunday's win for the Cubs, who remain tied atop the National League Central with the Brewers.

1) Hendricks chewing up innings
Hendricks fought his fastball command early in Sunday's game, but the pitcher credited Cubs catcher Willson Contreras for taking charge and helping the pitcher power through what developed into a seven-inning outing.

"He could feel what the hitters were doing better than I could today," Hendricks said. "So I started relying on him. He kind of had more energy and he, just mentally, got me to be more aggressive and more into it."

Contreras guided Hendricks through an outing that mainly featured sinkers in the upper tier of the strike zone, countered with changeups down or in chase spots. The right-hander scattered eight hits but limited the damage and only allowed one run. Hendricks ended with three strikeouts and no walks.

The seven innings actually brought Hendricks' average over his past eight turns down a tick to roughly 7 1/3 innings per start. Hendricks, who has a 1.99 ERA over that stretch, leads Cubs starters with 84 innings (seventh in the NL). Reaching 200 innings on the season is still a goal for Hendricks, who finished with 199 last year.

"It gets harder and harder to get," he said. "All of us in this clubhouse as starters, we pride ourselves on pitching deep in games."

Entering Sunday, the Cubs' rotation was averaging 5.8 innings per game, which ranked third in the NL behind only the Dodgers (5.9) and Nationals (5.8). Maddon is quick to note that more innings from his starters leads to better matchup-based use for his relievers. Chicago's bullpen has been a trouble area at times, but consistently deep outings from Hendricks and the rotation can help that improve.

"Really good starting pitching makes for a really good bullpen," Maddon said.

2) Schwarber setting the table
Over the winter, Maddon made a trip to the University of Tampa, where Schwarber was doing some of his training. The manager watched Schwarber hit and they discussed some changes in his stance and his approach for the upcoming campaign.

"A lot of it was the whole-field approach," Maddon said. "It was to not try to lift and separate and all that kind of good stuff. So he was doing some drills that I thought were interesting and useful."

Their work continued into Spring Training, when Schwarber showed off a revised stance (less upright) that hearkened back to his college days. Early on this season, the outfielder had a more opposite-field approach, but the results were more negative than positive into May. Schwarber's season OPS dipped to .699 on May 14 -- two days before Maddon decided to install him in the leadoff spot.

"It's in there," Schwarber said of his offense. "It's just being able to stay under control in the box and not miss my pitch."

Schwarber has been working more to get his pitch lately and the results have taken off.

On Saturday, Schwarber capped off an 11-pitch battle with Cardinals righty Jack Flaherty with a home run. Maddon said he felt "it all came together" for the outfielder during that performance, which also included a walk and a double. On Sunday, Schwarber kept it going with a leadoff walk and run in the first, plus an RBI double (fifth inning) and RBI single (seventh) before the day was done.

Over his past 11 games, Schwarber has hit .310/.396/.667. Since May 14, he's slashed .261/.355/.587 with eight home runs, four doubles, 15 walks and 17 RBIs in 24 games. That is dangerous production when the likes of Kris Bryant, Rizzo and Javier Baez follow in the Nos. 2-4 slots.

"I love his stance right now, man. I love what he's doing in the box," Maddon said. "He's made some beautiful adjustments. This is as good as I've seen him -- ever. I think I've seen him really good when he first came up or even in the World Series, he was outstanding. But this, if we could put this in a little bit of a time capsule, head's up."

3) CarGo enjoying his new home
The sample size is small, but Carlos González's impact has already been felt in Chicago.

The veteran outfielder made a game-saving catch in his debut with the Cubs on Monday in a win over the Angels. He has had a few key hits sprinkled throughout his first five games in a Chicago uniform, too. That included his first home run as a member of the Cubs in Sunday's win.

"With a player of his caliber," Cubs president of baseball operations Theo Epstein said last week, "you're always intrigued if a change of scenery can spur a revival. He's well-known for getting red hot for two, three, four months at a time. And it can come out of nowhere."

In the eighth inning, Gonzalez got a first-pitch fastball from Carlos Martinez that he sliced to left field. Given the characteristics of the ball in flight (98.2 mph exit velocity and 26 degree launch angle), it was the type of shot that becomes a home run 21.2 percent of the time, per Statcast. The basket atop the left-field wall collected the baseball, making it a solo blast that gave the Cubs a 5-1 lead.

It is still at a point where numbers can swing drastically with the outcomes of a few at-bats, but Gonzalez is hitting 18 percent above league average since joining the Cubs. With him in the fold, Chicago has the option of running out three lefty-swinging outfielders against right-handed pitchers. On top of that, players around the team have said the 33-year-old veteran has already been a presence in the clubhouse.

"He's just a pro," Hendricks said. "He comes in and he'll talk to anybody, sit down with you. I've already gotten to know him in a few days here. He's just a great guy. He fits in perfect with this atmosphere and this group."

The hope will be, as Epstein said, that this change of scenery can help Gonzalez experience sustained success.

"I'd love to see that," Maddon said. "He's had some pretty big hits for us already, made some good defensive plays. We'll just keep popping him out there, in and out, with the rest of the group. But, as we move this thing forward, as he gets more comfortable and as he gets hot, he'd be a big factor for us."

Jordan Bastian covers the Cubs for MLB.com. He previously covered the Indians from 2011-18 and the Blue Jays from 2006-10. Read his blog, Major League Bastian and follow him on Twitter @MLBastian.