Cubs

Amid roller coaster season, Kyle Schwarber once again looks like an answer for Cubs

Amid roller coaster season, Kyle Schwarber once again looks like an answer for Cubs

Roughly three hours after rocking out to "Born in the USA" as his new walk-up song, Kyle Schwarber strutted out to his locker wearing American flag shorts and dripping with sweat after a postgame weight-lifting session. 

He's not saving the world like Captain America or anything like that, but Schwarber is no stronger to the role of hero, having played it for the Cubs in each of the last two postseasons.

And now with the team fighting through a recent offensive slump, Schwarber is once again emerging as a possible answer for this Cubs lineup down the stretch.

The young slugger battled so hard to get his average back up over .200 after a stint in the minor leagues over the summer, but he hit his own slump in late August and early September. 

Those woes led to Schwarber riding the bench over the weekend as the Cubs scored just three runs in three games against the Milwaukee Brewers. 

Schwarber normally starts against right-handed pitchers and Milwaukee threw three righties out at Wrigley Field over the weekend yet Schwarber didn't see his name in the lineup once. He came in late Saturday in a 15-2 loss, drilling a homer and drawing a walk.

That little hot stretch rolled into Tuesday as Schwarber reached base all four times up, including his fourth three-hit game of the season as well as his 26th homer. For all the adversity he's faced throughout a roller coaster season, Schwarber is still tied with Kris Bryant for the second-most homers on the Cubs behind Anthony Rizzo.

Tuesday's big game raised Schwarber's 2017 average to .207, the highest it's been since April 29 when he was hitting .211.

Joe Maddon said he's encouraged by the steps Schwarber has taken to get his groove back, which included going to the opposite field and getting a pair of hits off left-handed pitchers.

"Shorter movements to the ball," Maddon said. "Much more hand involvement. I loved the line-drive to left-central. I thought it was big. And then good at-bats against both lefties.

"The homer, he stayed on that pitch really well. If he's getting out too far with longer movements, that doesn't happen. It just looks shorter and quicker, foot down sooner."

Schwarber refused to acknowledge any sort of frustration or show any cracks in the exterior from getting the weekend off. 

"It doesn't really change anything at all," Schwarber said. "I still go about my routine. Trying to keep making adjustments here and there."

Since the All-Star Break, Schwarber has a .908 OPS, slashing .255/.349/.559 in 166 plate appearances.

As the Cubs continue to search for their offensive rhythm down the stretch, Schwarber can play a huge role in a tight division race. 

The Cubs are slated to face right-handed starting pitchers in the next four games through Saturday, which should lead to lots of playing time for a guy who loves hitting when the lights are brightest (career .364 hitter with 1.178 OPS in the postseason).

If you can't wait for baseball to be back, take a look at the Cubs' spring training schedule

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USA TODAY

If you can't wait for baseball to be back, take a look at the Cubs' spring training schedule

Set your alarm, there are only three more months till baseball is back.

The Cubs announced their spring training schedule Monday, getting folks all amped up for the 34 exhibition games in February and March.

Spring game action gets started Feb. 23 out in Arizona, with the Cubs taking on the Milwaukee Brewers to kick off Cactus League play. The Cubs' first home spring game at Sloan Park in Mesa comes the next day, Feb. 24.

In addition to a 32-game Cactus League slate, the Cubs will take on the Cleveland Indians in a pair of exhibition games in Las Vegas. That 2016 World Series rematch comes March 17 and 18.

And of course, there will be three meetings with the White Sox, as both Chicago teams play their spring schedule out in Arizona. Those "Cactus Crosstown" games will be played Feb. 27 and March 10 in Mesa and March 16 in Glendale.

Here's the full schedule:

What if Jake Arrieta stays in the NL Central and repeatedly haunts the Cubs?

What if Jake Arrieta stays in the NL Central and repeatedly haunts the Cubs?

Jake Arrieta in a Brewers uniform?

That's not a sight Cubs fans would like to see, but the North Siders' I-94 rivals are apparently keen on trying to add Arrieta, the free-agent pitcher who's been one of the National League's top arms for the past several seasons.

The Cubs have their own decision to make on whether or not they're going to pursue re-signing Arrieta, a guy who over the past three seasons has posted a 2.71 ERA and struck out 589 batters, winning 54 games in 94 starts for a team that won the 2016 World Series and has advanced to three consecutive NL Championship Series.

The downside to losing Arrieta is obvious, as the Cubs would lose a huge part of their formidable starting rotation, but there would be an added downside if Arrieta were to remain in the NL Central and repeatedly haunt his former team.

Given Arrieta's track record, adding him would make sense for any team in the majors, but the Brewers in particular could use a front-of-the-line starting pitcher to boost their chances of besting the Cubs for the Central crown. The Brew Crew staged a surprising threat to do just that in 2017, perhaps proving that their rebuilding effort has yielded fruit ahead of schedule.

But there are questions in that rotation, with Jimmy Nelson expected to miss time next season after having shoulder surgery. Chase Anderson was great last season, and Zach Davies was solid, too. Brewers starters posted an ERA of 4.10 on the season, good for fifth in the NL. The four teams ahead of them, including the Cubs, all made the playoffs. Adding an arm as good as Arrieta's could make the difference in jumping past the Cubs in the Central and getting the Crew to the postseason for the first time since 2011.

And it'd be a plus for the Brewers to make it so Arrieta couldn't shut down their hitters anymore. In 15 career starts against the Crew, Arrieta is 8-4 with a 2.74 ERA. However, they'd surely love to have him call Miller Park home. He's never lost there in five starts, boasting a 2.03 ERA with 30 strikeouts.

There's an argument to be made that Arrieta would be able to seek revenge on the Cubs no matter what team he ends up pitching for, be it an NL team facing off against the Cubs in the playoffs or an American League squad meeting the Cubs in the World Series. After all, as Scott Boras put it, signing Arrieta is a ticket to "Playoffville."

But should Arrieta make the short drive to Wisconsin and set up shop in America's Dairyland, turning the Brewers into a legitimate playoff contender and challenger to the Cubs' grip on the NL Central crown? Well, consider the Cubs-Brewers rivalry cranked up to 11.