CHICGAO—Kyle Schwarber had a .175 average in May entering play Saturday night.
But when manager Joe Maddon weighs factors such as on-base percentage, walks and pitches per at-bat, Schwarber has emerged as his best option for the leadoff spot in the Cubs lineup. He led off for the third straight game Saturday against the Nationals.
"We've done it in the past," said Maddon, referring to Schwarber's disastrous start in 2017 that led to his demotion to Triple-A Iowa. "But he's different now."
"The at-bats have gotten better. He's removed from that moment a couple years ago."
Schwarber's low batting average in May is offset by his .404 on-base percentage and 15 walks (compared with eight in April). On Friday, he had a 13-pitch at-bat that resulted in a two-run home run off Kyle Barraclough in the eighth inning of a 14-6 victory against the Nationals.
Schwarber called his at-bat against Barraclough the best of his career, and Kris Bryant said Schwarber's lengthy at-bat allowed him to see all of Barraclough's pitches from the on-deck circle before hitting a hanging slider for a homer in his next at-bat.
Those are indicators that Schwarber is better suited for the leadoff spot than he was two years ago, when he batted .190 with a .312 on-base percentage with 24 walks and 48 strikeouts in 173 plate appearances at the top of the order.
"I'm not making a commitment either way," Maddon said. "I need to keep an open mind with all of this, and I am. Right now, where he's at with his game, it plays very well.
"If he can stick with that, my God, that would be awesome. This is all because (Ben Zobrist) is not around. Zo would have been the leadoff hitter (Friday). Under the circumstances, the candidates we have, you break it down, he might suit the bill as good as anybody."
Zobrist has been on the restricted list since May 8, six days before he and his wife, Julianna, filed for divorce in separate states.
Streaking to success
Javier Baez is showing no signs of slowing down despite starting at shortstop in all of the Cubs' first 43 games. He entered Saturday with a career-high 16-game hitting streak.
Baez is batting .381 (24-for-63) during his streak, which started May 1 with a 3-for-5 performance in Seattle. But that's the only three-hit game during the streak for Baez, whose previous career high was 11 straight games from April 14-28, 2018.
"He's doing it very quietly," Maddon said. "He's not doing it like he's torrid. He's just picking one up there and there."
Baez has struck out 56 times but with 12 walks is on pace to surpass his career high of 30 in 2017. His .370 on-base percentage is 44 points higher than his career best of .326 in 2018.
"He's got that little Vladdy (Guerrero) in him," said Maddon, referring to the Hall of Fame hitter who often made contact on pitches out of the strike zone. "If he can reach it, it's got a chance to be a (hit)."
40-man roster addition
The Cubs claimed right-hander Chandler Shepherd off waivers from the Red Sox and optioned him to Double-A Tennessee, bringing their 40-man roster to 40.
Shepherd, 26, is 17-28 with 16 saves and a 4.09 ERA in 158 career appearances (35 starts) covering six minor-league seasons.