McKnight: Ways to keep Cubs' lineup producing

  • Chicago Cubs' Kyle Schwarber rounds the bases after hitting a two-run home run off Cincinnati Reds relief pitcher Burke Badenhop, right, also scoring Dexter Fowler, during the seventh inning of a baseball game Tuesday, Sept. 1, 2015, in Chicago.

    Chicago Cubs' Kyle Schwarber rounds the bases after hitting a two-run home run off Cincinnati Reds relief pitcher Burke Badenhop, right, also scoring Dexter Fowler, during the seventh inning of a baseball game Tuesday, Sept. 1, 2015, in Chicago.

 
Updated 9/6/2015 11:25 PM

So the Cubs are now without Kyle Schwarber and heading to St. Louis.

Hopefully, it won't be for long. Hopefully, Schwarber meant it when he told reporters Friday that he's feeling no pain and that if it were the playoffs he'd be playing.

 

Hopefully.

Heading into a series against the NL Central leading Cardinals, leading the third-place Cubs by 8½ games, it's less than ideal. Despite the fact that over his last 10 games, Schwarber had cooled at the plate (7 for his last 37), he'd still been hitting for plenty of power (3 home runs with a .459 SLG).

It's not so much that the Cubs really have a chance to take the Central from a team with a double-digit lead. It's that many were eager to see how this iteration of the 2015 Cubs stacked up against those the Cardinals.

The last time these two faced off, the Cubs took two of three in early July. Dexter Fowler, who led off and played center, had been on a 12-game ride of .191/.269/.277. Quite a far cry from the Fowler we've seen over the past month.

Jorge Soler was in right. Starlin Castro was at short. Addison Russell got 3 at-bats in the series.

No doubt, the Cardinals have had to make changes of their own. Matt Holiday is done. Randal Grichuk is out. Jason Heyward is battling a hamstring injury. They've used their endless supply of minor-leaguers to fill in and more than keep up the pace.

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Joe Maddon offered a plausible lineup change that will help the Cubs out in Schwarber's absence -- and perhaps even when he returns.

When asked if the Cubs could run Kris Bryant out to right field on a regular basis, Maddon said, "You could. That's exactly right. I'm looking at all these different possibilities. … That's why you saw (Javier Baez) play all these different positions in the minor leagues, to commit us to do these different type of things."

Particularly interesting there is the inclusion of Baez in the plans. Maddon stumped for Baez when the Cubs broke camp. He has raved about Baez's glove. Maddon has even admitted, "I'm really into defense right now."

While that might just be a convenient interest, it's worth noting the Cubs scored just 3.3 runs/game from Aug. 24 to Sept. 2. That's nearly a full run below their season average. In fact, it'd be worse than having the Atlanta Braves offense. Only slightly worse and for a whole season.

Maddon can love the glove as much as he wants, but it's Baez's bat that will keep him in the lineup on a regular basis. Strange as it seems, it's yet another Cubs call-up who will affect the flexibility of the roster down the stretch.

• Connor McKnight can be heard regularly on WGN 720-AM and is a co-host of The Beat, the station's sports talk show on the weekends. Follow him on Twitter @McKnight_WGN

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