Cubs left fielder Kyle Schwarber got in some extra swings with hitting coach John Mallee while manager Joe Maddon watched before the game Saturday against the Pirates.
The extra work and extra attention paid off as Schwarber hit his 13th homer in the fourth inning, but the Cubs still lost 4-2. They again fell below .500 and stayed 4½ games behind the first-place Brewers, who had lost to the Yankees.
“We haven’t been able to sustain a streak for as long as we would like, but we’re a five- or six-game winning streak away from being right there,” Jake Arrieta said.
Center fielder Ian Happ also homered in the fourth, but Arrieta faltered, allowing four runs in 5⅔ innings. Leading 2-1 in the sixth, Arrieta allowed three runs, including Gregory Polanco’s two-run homer to center as the Pirates took a 3-2 lead.
Schwarber also singled to left in the second and walked in the seventh. He looked more like the hitter the Cubs expected him to be before the season.
“A hit’s a hit,” said Schwarber, who seemed more concerned about the loss than his own numbers. “You take them when they come, and it was a pitch away so I went that way with it.”
Maddon also was encouraged, saying he liked all of Schwarber’s at-bats, even when he struck out in the ninth against Pirates reliever Felipe Rivero.
“Short movements, quick to the ball. That’s all I saw all night,” Maddon said. “I thought he looked really good with that.”
Before the game, Maddon saw Mallee working with Schwarber on his swing and “wanted to mosey on over and really pay attention.”
“I just wanted to watch personally and reinforce a lot of it. That’s pretty much what it was — reinforcing what they were doing,” Maddon said. “I tend to be vocal as a hitting coach, and I’m always there when they do something positively, and even if I added that to the day that would be a good thing. More than anything just to watch what they already were doing, and I liked it.”
What they were doing was working on shorter movements in the box for Schwarber. The drills, Maddon said, were done on the field instead of in a cage so Schwarber could see the results of his swings.
“Everything looked really good,” Maddon said.
As for the Cubs as a team, it was more of the same.
Their struggles have been one of the baseball’s biggest stories. A team expected to run away with its division hasn’t been more than four games above .500 this season. There have been some good moments, but they’ve been cancelled out by mediocre pitching, fielding, and a lineup that has failed to produce.
“It’s just baseball. That’s the best way to put it. It will do crazy things to you. I’ve seen my fair share of it with myself,” Schwarber said. “You’ve just got to find a way to stay even-keeled and go out there and keep competing and knowing that good things are going to happen because we know what kind of team we have here.
“We have a really good team and we’re going to keep going out every day and battling.”
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