By Bruce Levine —
CHICAGO (CBS) — The Cubs’ closest version of “Mr. October,” outfielder Kyle Schwarber is embracing a showdown with the Nationals and ace right-hander Max Scherzer in Game 3 of the National League Division Series at Wrigley Field on Monday afternoon.
“You just have to get him in the zone,” Schwarber said as the series sits tied 1-1. “You can’t have a focus on one guy or the name on the back of his jersey. You do not worry about him throwing hard or what he is. You just want to get in there, get in the box and have a good game plan. You just think about executing that plan. Selective aggression is what it is all about. When you do get your pitch from him, just make sure you don’t miss it.”
Schwarber, 24, has starred in the past two postseasons for the Cubs. That includes in the 2016 championship run, when he returned ahead of schedule from ACL reconstruction surgery to hit .412 in the World Series and become a cult hero.
This season, Schwarber had a disastrous first three months in which he hit .171, which led to a demotion to Triple-A. From there, he rediscovered his swing and some confidence and finished strong, hitting .253 with 17 homers and an .894 OPS after the All-Star break.
With his ability to change the game in one swing, Schwarber could be a key to the Cubs’ run production in Game 3 and moving forward. Even after navigating the challenge of facing Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo, opposing pitchers can’t slip up against Schwarber, who boasts prodigious power.
Of course, facing Scherzer (16-6, 2.51 ERA) is a monumental challenge too. The Cubs are focused on grinding away.
“The prime example happened in Game 1,” Schwarber said. “(Stephen Strasburg) was the nastiest human on the planet for five or six innings. We finally were able to get to him after they made one mistake. That is how it has to be. There was no panic in our dugout. Everyone just stayed focused. When you get that pitch to drive, you must do it.”
Schwarber will bat sixth and play left field in Game 3. Because of Schwarber’s defensive limitations, manager Joe Maddon’s plan is to get him three at-bats, then replace him with a better defender.
Schwarber is a lifetime .340 hitter with five homers in 15 career playoff games. He admitted the mentality is a bit different in the playoffs than the regular season.
“One thing is that it’s obviously different because of what is at stake,” Schwarber said. “When it comes down to playing, it is still the same game. You cannot let the moment get to you. Have your game plan and try to execute it. Have the same mindset. We look forward to having the fans here being a part of it. We have the best fans in baseball, and they understand the moment.”
Bruce Levine covers the Cubs and White Sox for 670 The Score and CBSChicago.com. Follow him on Twitter @MLBBruceLevine.