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Cubs looking for Schwarber to get on track

CHICAGO -- In his four at-bats in Game 2 of the National League Championship Series, Kyle Schwarber saw 18 pitches, including three fastballs. He struck out in three of the four at-bats.

"It must be something they want to do," Schwarber said of the Mets' approach in the NLCS against the Cubs. "I need to do a better job of laying off pitches out of the zone and focus on getting my pitch. When I do get my pitch, I have to focus on not missing it."

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The Cubs need Schwarber and others to get back on track. Schwarber went 7-for-13 in five postseason games before the NLCS, and is 1-for-8 so far with four strikeouts, including the three Sunday in Chicago's 4-1 loss to New York, which has a 2-0 lead in the best-of-seven series. Game 3 is set for Tuesday (air time 7:30 p.m. ET, game time 8 p.m. ET on TBS).

In Schwarber's first at-bat on Sunday, Mets right-hander Noah Syndergaard started with a curve, then threw two changeups, both of which the rookie swung at and missed. Three pitches, that's it. Syndergaard threw a token fastball in the next two at-bats, but he started the pitch sequence to Schwarber both times with offspeed pitches.

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"The other at-bats, I did get my pitch, and I missed it," Schwarber said. "When you're facing a guy like that who's on, you're only going to get one -- maybe. So, you tip your hat to the guy. He did a great job. We're ready to move forward and focus on Game 3."

The NLCS shifts to Wrigley Field, where Schwarber's monster home run from Game 4 of the NL Division Series is still sitting under a plexiglass cover on top of the right-field scoreboard. He has hit four homers, the franchise record for most in a single postseason by a rookie, and which also matches the most by any Cubs player in a single postseason, joining Alex Gonzalez and Aramis Ramirez in 2003.

Schwarber joins Mickey Mantle, Andruw Jones, Miguel Cabrera and Bryce Harper as the only players in Major League history to hit four postseason home runs before turning 23 years old.

And a year ago, Schwarber was just finishing up instructional league in Arizona.

"Why is Schwarber doing what he's doing? We gave him a little bit of rest, but I also think he is this kind of guy and he loves this kind of stuff," Cubs manager Joe Maddon said. "He's not overwhelmed."

The Cubs' 2014 first-round Draft pick began the season at Double-A Tennessee, and was promoted to the big leagues in June to be the designated hitter in Interleague games at American League ballparks. Schwarber knew he'd be returning to the Minor Leagues after the six-game stint, although he was bumped up to Triple-A Iowa, and then called up to the big leagues for good in mid-July.

"There's no secret that our team and lineup has definitely changed since he's gotten here," Cubs catcher David Ross said.

Schwarber did struggle a little in the final month of the season, batting .242. But it wasn't that long ago that Schwarber was spending September playing high school football in Middletown, Ohio.

"September is that extra month that he's never played before," Maddon said. "We did back off a lot and he got his days off. He's had a little bit of rest, so I think that's helped a little. I'm certain he's always going to love this time of year and he'll always respond to it."

Because Schwarber doesn't seem like a 22-year-old.

"The way he works, to be honest with you, for such a young guy, getting to the field so early, he goes about his business like a veteran," Ross said. "His mentality is very even keel throughout everything that's happening to him on this stage.

"The way he's swinging the bat in the big moments, doesn't expand outside of the strike zone, stays within himself, great approach, great person, great teammate -- I could go on and on about this kid about what kind of person he is as well as what kind of a talented baseball player he is," Ross said. "He's a pretty good catcher, too, that nobody's getting to see, in my opinion."

Ross got to know Schwarber in Spring Training. The catchers are a close knit group and have early sessions together. They locker near each other, have dinners together. As Maddon says, Schwarber is a different cat.

"Have you all seen that 'YouTube' video with him dancing -- was it with his high school group?" Maddon said of a home movie someone posted. "He's like part of The 'Temptations' or 'The Spinners' or 'The Four Tops.' He's like the lead dancer. I love that. ... He's just very comfortable in his own skin."

Mets manager Terry Collins only knows Schwarber as a hitter, not a dancer.

"You talk about some bat speed, I mean, he's got some bat speed," Collins said. "I can see why he's up here as fast as he got here. He's going to be a danger. He's going to hit for power. So there are guys who come on the scene who are going to be destined to be great players, and he looks like he's going to be one of those guys."

Carrie Muskat is a reporter for She writes a blog, Muskat Ramblings. You can follow her on Twitter @CarrieMuskat and listen to her podcast.
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