MLB.com Columnist

Barry M. Bloom

Schwarber on right track, focused on winning

World Series hero fixes swing, rebounds from slow 1st half

Schwarber on right track, focused on winning

PHOENIX -- Without the designated hitter at Cleveland last year, the Cubs wouldn't have won the World Series, manager Joe Maddon has freely admitted.

"I don't think so because of the impact Kyle Schwarber had," Madden reiterated before Saturday's game against the D-backs at Chase Field.

Schwarber had just been given medical clearance to hit after recovering from torn ligaments in his left knee. And because of the rules, he was available to DH in the American League park where the seven-game World Series opened and closed.

Schwarber hit .412 (7-for-17) with a pair of runs scored, two RBIs, three walks, a .500 on base percentage and a .971 OPS as the Cubs scored 22 runs and won three of the four games at Progressive Field.

Schwarber wasn't cleared to play the field, and without him at Wrigley, the Cubs scored only five times and lost two of the three middle games.

"It was the one time I liked the DH, the one time I liked the American League game," said Maddon, who cut his teeth as a bench coach with the Angels and manager of the Rays.

It was the luck of the draw. The AL won the All-Star Game last year -- giving the pennant-winning Indians home-field advantage in the World Series. The Cubs led the Majors with 103 wins, and under this year's new rules, they would've had home field in the opening and closing games of last year's World Series.

In that case, Schwarber would've been available for only the middle three games.

"We got lucky," Maddon said. "I said it last year. I admitted it."

It was that type of karma, which helped to end the Cubs' 108-year World Series-title drought. And one would have thought Schwarber's good World Series hitting karma would've carried over into this season. But it didn't happen.

Schwarber injured the knee in a collision here at Chase Field on April 7, 2016, and he missed the remainder of the regular season. Trying to parlay his rare World Series success, Schwarber had a good Spring Training, hitting .293 with five homers and 15 RBIs. Then, the season took a bad turn. He was batting .171 on July 22 when the Cubs optioned him to Triple-A Iowa with the express intent of retooling and shortening his left-handed swing.

Since his return on July 6, Schwarber entered Saturday batting .263 with seven of his 19 homers, including the one he smacked to the right of center, leading off the sixth inning of the Cubs' 8-3 win on Friday night.

"The first half was a wash for me. I don't count the first half anymore," Schwarber said. "Now it's just about going out there and helping the team win, putting up good at-bats every time I'm up there."

Considering all the recovery time in 2016, might a fast start have been too much to ask?

Statcast: Cubs go back-to-back

"Of course. Absolutely," Maddon said. "People don't understand that this guy missed most of last year. I take part responsibility for this for putting too much pressure on him. My rhetoric early in the season was perhaps too grandiose about him. It was probably too much hyperbole from me. I should have backed off.

"He's such a nice young man. He's just starting to catch up."

Schwarber was the Cubs' fourth overall pick in the 2014 MLB Draft and one of the four every day impact players determined by president of baseball operations Theo Epstein as necessary to win a World Series. Kris Bryant, selected second overall in the 2013 Draft, plus Anthony Rizzo and Addison Russell -- both obtained in trades -- were the others.

Schwarber is listed at 6-feet, 235 pounds, but he's built like a fire plug and looks a little smaller than that, especially in comparison to the gangly 6-foot-5 Bryant. But what Schwarber losses in size, he makes up with in bravado.

Epstein and general manager Jed Hoyer were so impressed with Schwarber's attitude after a pre-draft meeting in 2014, they just had to have him even though Schwarber is limited on defense as a catcher and outfielder. He's physically a DH, as he proved during the World Series, and was rated well below a No. 4 pick by other clubs for just that reason.

Schwarber's importance to Cubs

Extreme infield shifts are Schwarber's mortal enemy, Maddon said, partly accounting for his .216/.329/.455 lifetime slash line coming into Saturday's game. Instead, he has adjusted his launch angle to hit the ball over the shift and has 35 homers in 162 games.

The long swing was what Schwarber was told to eliminate when he was sent to the Minors for those recent 11 games. He pulled it apart, made it more compact.

"I just wanted to make everything smaller again," Schwarber said. "Shorten things up a little bit and not make my first move so big. I just wanted to go down, relax a little bit, and get back to where I was."

As far as the notion of missing all that time last season, Schwarber added that "it might have had something to do with it."

"But I don't look at it that way at all," he said. "I wasn't right for the first three months of the season. I was trying to grind through it. It just didn't work out."

Which makes what he did last year in the World Series, based on eight plate appearances in the Arizona Fall League, even that much more amazing.

"It was special, very special," Maddon said. "I'll never forget it."

Barry M. Bloom is a national reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog, Boomskie on Baseball. Follow @boomskie on Twitter. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.