MLB.com Columnist

Phil Rogers

Schwarber Factor has Cubs machine churning

Schwarber Factor has Cubs machine churning

CHICAGO -- Here's the Keep it Simple Stupid version of all you need to know about how the Cubs have gone from a cute little story to the team you'd least like to meet in the postseason:

It's the Schwarber Factor.

With Kyle Schwarber in the lineup, the Cubs have the most dangerous lineup in the National League, if not anywhere this side of the Blue Jays; without the 22-year-old Indiana University bruiser, well, they were a team with a bright future but not much shelf life beyond Oct. 4, when the regular season ends.

All the elements were in play, before our eyes, in the Cubs' 6-5 win over the White Sox at U.S. Cellular Field on Friday.

If anything, the fact that manager Joe Maddon got to use a designated hitter in the opener of the three-game Crosstown Classic series made the Cubs even tougher to beat than they had been lately, and that's saying something for a team that now has won eight in a row and 14 of 15.

"Right now, we feel like we're going to win every game,'' Chris Coghlan said. "I think that's the reason we're winning a lot of them.''

The victory over the White Sox fit the pattern that has built since the Cubs reached down to Double-A Tennessee for Schwarber before a stretch of June games in American League parks. Schwarber was sent to Triple-A Iowa when there was no longer a DH hole for him to fill but returned in July because of an injury to Miguel Montero, and it's fair to conclude he's not going anywhere soon.

With Schwarber in the lineup, the Cubs are scoring 5.1 runs per game. Without him, they averaged 3.7 runs.

How big of a difference is that? Over 162 games, it's like going from 599 runs a season to 826. That's essentially the Jays on one end of the spectrum and the Phillies on the other.

While the biggest development for the Cubs on Friday was the two-homer game by Coghlan, Schwarber was busy in the usual ways to get his team going. He lifted a two-strike sacrifice fly in the first inning to score Dexter Fowler and worked a walk in front of Coghlan's three-run homer to right-center in the third inning.

Coghlan's three-run homer

Otherwise it was a quiet day for the adaptable rookie, who finished 0-for-3, with one of the outs a grounder that smashed off Alexei Ramirez's leg so hard he limped to the home dugout. Schwarber is hitting .321 with eight homers, 26 RBIs and a 1.015 OPS in 32 games.

Built like a linebacker, Schwarber doesn't look the role of a No. 2 hitter. But his rare supply of plate discipline -- he had more walks than strikeouts all three years at Indiana -- has made him a natural in that spot. He's also had good timing, at least in a chicken-egg sense. It's impossible to quantify how hitters feed off each other, but the guys around Schwarber have been on runs of their own since Schwarber arrived.

"Not to take anything away from Schwarber, but I don't think that's the [only] reason why our offense is doing better,'' Coghlan said. "I do think Schwarber has been a huge factor in our offense. To see what he's done in such a short time frame, there's just not many hitters on the planet now that are as good as he is offensively, the way he's swinging, the way he's feeling. He's not missing many pitches. Any time you get a guy doing that kind of damage, you're going to score more runs.''

But, Coghlan went on to point out, there are a lot of other players pulling their piece of the rope.

Fowler, the switch-hitting center fielder, hit .189 in May and had a .286 on-base percentage in June. He had a .411 OBP in July and has turned it up from there in August, reaching base at a .433 pace.

"To get on base at the rate he has done since the All-Star break is huge,'' Coghlan said.

Fowler did his part to torture White Sox starter Jeff Samardzija, the former Cub. He lined a 2-2 pitch for a leadoff triple in the first inning (albeit with an assist from Avisail Garcia, who got caught between hops and let the ball skip past him) and pulled a double down the right-field line in the third.

Fowler's triple

Then there's Coghlan. Maddon has been hitting him third.

Yes, third. Yes, ahead of Anthony Rizzo and Kris Bryant. And, yes, somehow it has been a stroke of genius, like so many of Maddon's other moves. The Cubs are 12-0 with Coghlan hitting third.

"Any time you can get up at the top of the order and impact the game, you always want that," said Coghlan, whose 13 home runs are a career high. "Especially with Rizzo behind you, Dexter and Schwarber on base, anybody would benefit and be excited to get up as many times as they can.''

While the Cubs continue to be linked to an interest in Phillies second baseman Chase Utley, do they really need a veteran upgrade?

They've got the Schwarber Factor, and so far, that's been plenty.

Phil Rogers is a columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.