Chicago Cubs

Maddon not ruling out Schwarber leading off again

Chicago Cubs' Kyle Schwarber takes batting practice before Game 5 of baseball's National League Championship Series against the Los Angeles Dodgers, Thursday, Oct. 19, 2017, in Chicago. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)
Chicago Cubs' Kyle Schwarber takes batting practice before Game 5 of baseball's National League Championship Series against the Los Angeles Dodgers, Thursday, Oct. 19, 2017, in Chicago. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

Could we see Kyle Schwarber batting leadoff for the Cubs again?

Manager Joe Maddon, who addressed reporters Tuesday at the winter meetings in Orlando, isn’t ruling it out.

“Well, first of all, he looked great the other night,” Maddon said of Schwarber. “He came to our event. We had the ‘Thanksmas’ event in [Tampa]. He showed up, and it was really amazing and in a good way to see. He’s probably, arguably, in the best shape of his life, so it starts right there.

“Regarding the leadoff thing – and I know there’s a lot of stuff written about that – it was only failed in the sense that Kyle had a tough time last year. He could have hit one through nine and still had a tough time last year. Just it was not his year, although he rebounded really nicely.

“I have not really drawn a lot of conclusions with that. Obviously, we still got to see what the team’s going to look like in its entirety. Schwarber obviously could lead off. If he is hitting like Schwarber, he’s accepting his walks and he’s got his .250-plus batting average, and his on-base is going to be 100 points over his batting average, I really believe that.

“I definitely will consider that once again, but I want it see who all the available candidates are first.”

Maddon and the Cubs drew loads of criticism for starting the season with Schwarber at leadoff after he missed almost all of the 2016 season with a severe knee injury.

As the leadoff man this past season, he had a line of .190/.312/.381 with seven homers and 18 RBIs. Schwarber’s slump got so bad that he spent some time at Triple-A Iowa before coming back and finishing the season with a line of .211/.315/.467 with 30 homers and 59 RBIs.

Maddon fielded questions on a number of topics. Among them was the Cubs’ recent acquisition of starting pitcher Tyler Chatwood, who figures to be the No. 5 starter.

“Obviously, we have needs to fill, and we have all been fans of Tyler’s for several years,” Maddon said. “He’s really good, can throw the ball on the ground, can get the punchout.

“We’re kind of satisfied with the team on the field, but we have to constantly try to upgrade the pitching; everybody does. So that was a great first step.”

The Cubs also finalized a two-year deal with reliever Brandon Morrow, a pitcher they faced in the National League Championship Series against the Dodgers in October.

“You got to have that great bullpen to play the last game of the year and win it,” Maddon said. “Wade [Davis] was great last year. Hopefully that’s going to come back to us possibly. There’s other guys that may still come back to us. It’s really turning into a bullpen kind of a game and especially when it gets to the last several games of the year.”

Under Maddon, the Cubs have gone to the NLCS three years in a row, with the big payoff coming in 2016. He was asked if it’s now “World Series or bust” for the Cubs.

“Right, listen, NLCS or bust, we have been over the last three years, and it’s really not that bad to be under those circumstances,” he said. “I don’t want to grow up to be that guy that if you don’t get the pony every birthday that you’re going to be upset or start crying in a corner. Of course our goal is [to win the] World Series on an annual basis, – ‘or bust’ is kind of difficult. I just think that the way our is society’s generating these days, sometimes that kind of thought actually could be counterproductive and actually work against you.

“I would prefer us to be – you’ve heard me a zillion times – be process-oriented. This is how we’re going to do this to get to that point, to get to those meaningful games. We have done it three years in a row. Listen, three years to the NLCS in a row, that’s tough. And I give our guys a lot of credit.”

Coomer extended: The Cubs and Entercom announced that radio color analyst Ron Coomer has reached a multiyear contract extension to continue his coverage of the team alongside play-by-play announcer Pat Hughes.

Coomer, 51, first joined the Cubs Radio Network in December 2013, succeeding Keith Moreland on WGN 720. He has been with Entercom (formerly CBS Radio) since 2015 when the Cubs moved to WBBM Radio and now WSCR 670-AM.

Now entering his fifth season, Coomer has called hundreds of Cubs games, including three straight National League Championship Series. In 2016, he was part of history as the Cubs broke a century-long drought to become World Series champions.

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