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From ‘boring’ to jolly old England: Cubs, Cards to play in London next season

Sources say the teams have accepted an invitation to play a series in London that otherwise would have been in St. Louis.

Chicago Cubs v St Louis Cardinals
Kris Bryant and Yadier Molina take their act on the road to London, England, for a Cubs-Cardinals series next season.
Photo by Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images

CINCINNATI — Is it possible Kris Bryant’s travel preferences have influenced Major League Baseball’s schedule-makers?

Sources confirmed this week that the Cubs and Cardinals have accepted invitations to play a series next season in London, a city much less ‘‘boring’’ than St. Louis, which otherwise would have been the site.

Bryant, the 2016 National League MVP, caused a social-media storm in January that brought blowback from catcher Yadier Molina and other Cardinals when he said during a comedy ‘‘talk show’’ during the Cubs Convention that St. Louis is ‘‘boring.’’

Big Ben vs. the Arch? Bangers and mash vs. pizza with Provel processed cheese? The Changing of the Guard at Buckingham Palace vs., what, Fredbird?

Don’t know whether MLB is planning to do anything with those other two trips the Cubs have scheduled for St. Louis next season. But consider this one ready to be stamped with the Bryant seal of approval.

The Red Sox and Yankees will play a two-game series next month in London, MLB’s first official games in Europe.

The Mets and Nationals also were considered for the London series next summer.

Schwarber back on top

Two years removed from the Cubs’ failed leadoff experiment with Kyle Schwarber, the lefty slugger with the high on-base percentage was back in the top spot in the lineup Thursday for the first time since two cameos there last season.

‘‘The matchup’s good,’’ manager Joe Maddon said. ‘‘And beyond that, Schwarbs has been getting on base a lot.’’

Schwarber entered the game 3-for-6 with two home runs and three walks against Reds starter Luis Castillo and had 13 walks and a .412 on-base percentage in his last 13 games overall.

Maddon’s choices for his mix-and-match leadoff system is limited significantly with Ben Zobrist away on personal leave.

‘‘With the righties coming up [through Tuesday], I may let it ride a couple of days and see what it looks like,’’ Maddon said. ‘‘There’s no downside to it, as far as I can tell. I’m kind of intrigued, actually.’’

Caratini returns

As expected, the Cubs activated catcher Victor Caratini from the injured list and optioned catcher Taylor Davis to Class AAA Iowa.

Caratini, who spent five weeks on the IL after breaking the hook of the hamate bone in his left hand, started at first base.

Caratini’s return means the departure of right-hander Yu Darvish’s personal catcher for his last five starts, a stretch that includes his only quality start of the season and his 11-strikeout, no-walk start Wednesday.

Davis is a better pitch-framer than starter Willson Contreras, so the Davis-Darvish pairing was designed to help the pitcher with his command problems.

Maddon said he’s ‘‘leaning toward’’ pairing Caratini with Darvish, at least for the next start or two.

Rizzo update

First baseman Anthony Rizzo, who has missed the last four games after his lower back tightened during the Cubs’ extra-inning game Saturday, took more swings and appears poised for a return to the lineup this weekend in Washington.

‘‘He’s smiling, he’s laughing; that’s always a good sign,’’ Maddon said. ‘‘I’m encouraged about this weekend. [Friday] would be great, but I’m not 100 percent sure. . . . I would think by Saturday, for sure.’’