Cubs
USA TODAY

After roller coaster season, Kyle Schwarber wants to add to his budding 'Mr. October' legacy

Kyle Schwarber is ready to add to his legend.

The 24-year-old slugger just finished his first full MLB season, but will live forever in Cubs lore after helping end the 108-year championship drought with a made-for-Hollywood return to the lineup in the World Series.

Schwarber's 2017 has been a roller coaster that included a three-week stint in the minor leagues and inconsistent playing time down the stretch.

But he has a career .364 average and 1.178 OPS in 14 playoff games and the Cubs' new "Mr. October" is heating up at just the right time. He hit .288 with a .954 OPS in 59 September at-bats, crushing six homers and helping raise his season average from .168 on July 6 to .211

It's like he flipped a switch as October neared.

"This is my favorite time of year," he said. "This is when things start coming to the nitty-gritty. This brings out the best in everyone, I think. You saw when we were playing Milwaukee and the way St. Louis was playing, those were some really hard-fought games.

"It was like a playoff atmosphere. Going into Washington, it's gonna be some hard-fought games. ... You're gonna be in for a grinder series, I'm sure, and it'll be fun."

In a trying year that saw Schwarber finish with only 422 at-bats, he still reached the 30-homer plateau with a moonshot Saturday afternoon in the season's penultimate game. He was also caught on the videoboard camera in the Cubs dugout dancing along to the "YMCA."

"It's pretty crazy, isn't it?" Joe Maddon said of Schwarber's 30th homer. "Good for him. That shows you the kinda talent that he has. Came back and really reconstructed himself.

"Right now, that home run [Saturday], I was really watching it closely. He got started really early, which is good. You can never be too early, but you can be too late as a hitter. He was definitely on time and that's why the ball went that far."

We don't know yet how often Maddon will write Schwarber's name on the lineup card at the start of the Cubs' playoff games, a stark contrast from last year when the left-handed slugger changed the complexion of the entire lineup and drove the news cycle for 10 days right around Halloween.

Schwarber isn't concerned about his role, focusing instead on the team

"I'm gonna prepare like I'm in the lineup until I'm told that I'm not," Schwarber said. "And then when I'm not, I'm gonna prepare like the way I would be coming off the bench.

"There's gonna be no different kind of preparation for me. This time of the year is where you can't get surprised by anything."

For the third straight fall, Schwarber will be in uncharted waters in the beginning of October.

In 2015, Schwarber immediately put the Cubs on the board in that high-octane wild-card game in Pittsburgh before crushing the St. Louis Cardinals in the NLDS and coming under fire for a couple defensive miscues in the NLCS against the New York Mets.

Last year, Schwarber was still powering through a rehab process up until the last week of October when he made an incredible return to the lineup in the World Series after missing more than six months.

This fall, he has four days between games and will focus on simulated action and batting practice instead of rehab and winner-take-all one-game playoffs.

He's also taking some time for visualization, imagining himself executing in different situations and trying to provide some of that 30-homer pop whenever he's called upon in October.

"It's been an up-and-down year," Schwarber said. "It is what it is. I'm happy about [the 30-homer plateau], but I'm not really too focused on it at all. It's a cool accomplishment, but I'm more focused on the bigger picture here, which is the postseason coming up."