The Rundown: Schwarber Could Lead Off Again, Lackey ‘Bothered by a Lot of Things,’ Trade Speculation Abounds

Ed. note: Keep in mind that this was published prior to news of Schwarber being recalled.

For all the shifting lineups, new-school tendencies, and willingness to embrace change, Joe Maddon can be an intractable SOB when it comes to certain things he’s really passionate about. One of those things is the idea of Kyle Schwarber batting leadoff.

“I’ve thought about it,” Maddon said Wednesday when asked about the exiled slugger’s return to the top of the order. “I honestly don’t know yet. I haven’t decided what I want to do with that yet.”

And that’s without having seen what Schwarber has looked like at or what he’s done at Iowa, or so Maddon said. He also said in no uncertain terms that he does not believe hitting Schwarber leadoff to start the season had anything to do with the performance that earned him an all-expense trip to Des Moines.

“It’s a zero concern,” Maddon declared. “He would have struggled in the eight-hole. That had nothing to do with where he was hitting in the batting order. I find no connection between his struggle and where he was hitting in the batting order. It was just that he was struggling.”

This answer smacks of the same sort of stubbornness we heard from the Cubs skipper when he was questioned about his Game 7 pitching decisions. In that case, however, he had the benefit of speaking as the winner of the World Series, which is sort of like the ultimate trump card. Think of it like a parent resorting to “Because I said so.”

And to that end, Maddon went ahead and doubled down on both his belief that batting first did not cause Schwarber’s issues and his willingness to bat the slugger at the top of the order again.

“In my mind’s eye, [batting leadoff] had nothing to do with it, so I would not be concerned with putting him back there, just depending on what he looks like when he gets back.”

Don’t get me wrong, I’m one of the crazies who likes the idea of War Bear leading off. It’s just that Maddon’s insistence on it without really being willing to address the possibility that it may have led to subsequent struggles is a little irksome. So is the idea that he’s talking about putting Schwarber right back in there once he returns.

Unless, you know, the mojo Anthony Rizzo generated with his own leadoff stint is still lingering around the clubhouse and can attach itself to Schwarber like the alien symbiote to Spider-Man. But I’m talking about that in a totally positive sense. Lord knows we’ve already had more than enough venom and carnage surrounding the Cubs this year.

Lackey gon’ Lackey

Whereas Ian Happ’s impassive visage betrays no emotion of any sort, John Lackey’s facial expressions display a range that runs the gamut from “mad as hell” to “scary AF.” But the big Texan has a sense of humor so dry you half expect a tumbleweed to go rolling across the table during his pressers.

When Lackey sat down in the interview room following his no-decision in the Cubs’ 7-3 come-from-behind win Wednesday, it was after Joe Maddon had informed the media that the righty was dealing with plantar fasciitis in his right foot. Responding to whether the chronic soft tissue injury was hampering him, Lackey gave perhaps the most quintessentially John Lackey answer ever.

“I’m 38 years old, I’m bothered by a lot of things,” he grumbled after Wednesday’s win.

In addition to his tender foot, the leathery soul may have been talking about the way Maddon had rearranged the rotation to give Jon Lester an extra start before the break. Coming off of his third quality start in the last four games and having lowered his HR/9 from 2.33 to 2.20 (which dropped him into a tie with Jose Lima for highest in baseball history), Lackey was probably feeling pretty good about himself.

He even questioned why pinch-hit hero Jon Jay doesn’t play more, though the unlikely power hitter had started 10 of the previous 11 games. In the end, it’s just a matter of Lackey being himself, which is less an excuse than an explanation. To expect the unvarnished varmint to go out there and heap praise upon everyone and everything is to completely misunderstand who he is. Come to think of it, I’m not sure I really want to truly understand this guy.

Speculation swirls as stars scratched and pulled

In the space of a few hours Wednesday evening, we got news about three Cubs minor leaguers that sent Twitter into a tizzy. Dylan Cease was scratched from his start for low-A South Bend and Eloy Jimenez and Kyle Schwarber were pulled from their respective games with high-A Myrtle Beach and AAA Iowa.

The former turned out to be a matter of South Bend’s rotation being rearranged and Cease is on schedule to start tomorrow. Jimenez’s removal from the game was the matter of a leg injury suffered on a slide into third that saw him hobbling around on the bases. He remained in the game and scored a run, so his removal was precautionary.

Schwarber’s situation is a little different for obvious reasons, making the speculation particularly rampant in his case. After going 1-for-2 with a walk, his hit a smash to the centerfield wall that went for two bags in the 6th inning, he was removed from the game. But why?

Was he being traded? If that was the case, there’d have been rumblings on some level beyond your run-of-the-mill chatter. Called up? That would seem a really odd choice after having him bus out to OKC just to play a game on the last of his mandatory 10 days in the minors following an option. I’m talking, like, totally inexplicable.

Or was he just on the wrong end of an 8-0 score with three plate appearances already under his belt? Remember, the stated reason — and I buy it — for Schwarber’s demotion was to get him back to being himself. That means being confident. To that end, pulling him after he’d smashed a double late in a game in which his team was trailing by eight runs makes sense.

As you can imagine, many conclusions were jumped to as beleaguered Cubs fans tried to figure out what was going on. Move along, folks, nothing to see here. Unless there is. Which there probably isn’t.

More news and notes

  • Baseball is apparently not tiring and at least one Chicago sportswriter doesn’t think players need much rest
  • The Rockies’ Jon Gray (he’s a pitcher, mind you) hit a 467-foot homer, his first and the team’s longest of the season
  • Mike Trout began a rehab assignment Wednesday and is expected to return shortly after the break
  • Arodys Vizcaino — remember him? — hit the DL with a strained finger
  • Devin Mesoraco is on the DL with a strained shoulder
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