Kyle Schwarber is a hitting machine. In his return to the major leagues Friday in Atlanta, he had the second three-hit game of his (so far) seven-game big-league career. He had two singles and a double and now has a double, triple and home run among his 11 major-league hits. He raised his batting average to .423 and his slugging percentage to .654.
Although Schwarber scored a run in the Cubs' only scoring rally of the game on a two-run single by Jorge Soler (that's nice to see, too), his big day didn't help the team win, as a two-run single by Atlanta's Eury Perez off Pedro Strop in the eighth inning gave the Braves a 4-2 win over the Cubs in the first game after the All-Star break.
Schwarber also made a throwing error in the first inning that allowed Nick Markakis to advance a base after a steal. Markakis then scored, but he probably would have scored from second anyway on Kelly Johnson's single, so it's not clear whether that error hurt the team or not. (It did make the run off Kyle Hendricks unearned.) Later, Johnson reached on catcher's interference committed by Schwarber, but that did not result in any Atlanta scoring.
So Schwarber had an eventful evening in his first big-league start behind the plate. Despite the big day for him offensively, you won't see him catching the next two games:
#Cubs Maddon says Schwarber won't catch Lester or Arrieta, but could be behind the plate for others— Carrie Muskat (@CarrieMuskat) July 17, 2015
Essentially, that means he could start at catcher three of every five games until Miguel Montero is ready to return. For other games you'll undoubtedly see him pinch-hitting, and then likely serving as DH next month when the Cubs play their final three interleague road games, August 14-16 against the White Sox at the Cell.
The game was won, as noted, by Perez's single off Strop in the eighth inning. Kelly Johnson was on second base with two out when the Cubs elected to intentionally walk A.J. Pierzynski.
Would you have done that in that situation? I'm not sure I would have. Maybe that's 20/20 hindsight knowing that Strop would then proceed to walk Andrelton Simmons by throwing two straight sliders in the dirt to load the bases, where Perez proceeded to hit his game-winning single. The Cubs are among the league leaders in intentional passes with 27, and this one, unfortunately, came back to bite them.
So did the lack of offense; for the fifth straight game the Cubs failed to score more than three runs, and four of those games have resulted in defeat. They did have seven hits and three walks, but a pair of double plays (Dexter Fowler and Starlin Castro) meant only five men left on base and they were 1-for-6 with RISP.
Kyle Hendricks pitched reasonably well, although his pitch count of 100 while not finishing the sixth inning was too high. In 18 starts it's just the second time he's hit triple digits in pitches (and one other time, he had 99). Joe Maddon appears to be babying him to some extent; Friday night, I agreed with the decision to lift him. Justin Grimm came in and loaded the bases before getting Perez to get out of the inning. Hector Rondon threw a scoreless inning which included a pickoff of Jace Peterson that was upheld on review:
That one was pretty close and it was ruled "call stands." The Cubs won one other review Friday evening, when Jonny Gomes was initially ruled safe at first on a ground ball to short that Castro booted, then recovered:
Unfortunately, those did not help the team win. They're simply going to have to start figuring out ways to generate more offense. Having Schwarber get lots of hits is good! Now get him to start scoring lots of runs.
The good news in the wild-card race, and now that it's post-All-Star break it's time to start following that more closely, is that the Pirates and Mets both lost, so the Cubs still trail Pittsburgh by 5½ games and lead the Mets by one for the second wild-card spot. The Giants won, so they are now tied with the Mets. The Cubs lead both by two in the loss column.
Some of you wondered about the all-Kyle battery Friday night. Here's some further info on that:
Last two #Cubs same name starting batteries: 7/17/2015 Kyle (Hendricks to Schwarber) 9/26/2007 Jason (Marquis to Kendall)— Christopher Kamka (@ckamka) July 18, 2015
But, you're wondering, has there ever before been an all-Kyle battery? The answer is no. Oddly enough, the overwhelming majority of players with the first name "Kyle" in big-league history have been pitchers. Of the 26 such players, just eight have been position players and only three, including Schwarber, have been catchers. The other two, Kyle Skipworth and Kyle Phillips, never caught a pitcher by the same first name -- so the all-Kyle battery in this Cubs game was a first.
Saturday evening, Jon Lester takes the mound against Manny Banuelos in the second game of this three-game set.