How will the Cubs respond to the loss of Kyle Schwarber?


How will the Cubs respond to the loss of Kyle Schwarber?

PHOENIX – Life after Kyle Schwarber began with a 3-2 walk-off loss to the Arizona Diamondbacks on Friday at Chase Field, the Cubs bullpen unraveling late and manager Joe Maddon getting strategy questions during his postgame media session.

“You can’t be an oil painting every night,” Maddon said.

Schwarber personified the next-man-up philosophy last summer, giving the Cubs a shot of adrenaline that carried them to 97 wins and through two playoff rounds.

The legend grew as Schwarber’s left-handed power smashed balls into the Allegheny River, on top of a Wrigley Field video board and off a car windshield in the parking lot at the team’s spring-training complex.

During his first full season in professional baseball, Schwarber became a billboard for the youth movement on the North Side, all the unlimited possibilities ahead for a team that many preseason experts picked to win the World Series.

All that made the pregame diagnosis – season-ending knee surgery to repair Schwarber’s torn ACL and LCL – so disappointing inside the visiting clubhouse.

“He’s going to be missed,” catcher David Ross. “There’s no doubt about it. There’s no sugarcoating it. We love the guy. It’s a sad day here in our locker room.”

[MORE: Sickening feeling for Cubs after Kyle Schwarber's season-ending injury]

On a smaller scale, the Cubs missed the chance to go 4-0 for the first time since 1995, wasting Jason Hammel’s six innings of one-run ball. Trevor Cahill gave up Yasmany Tomas’ game-winning line-drive single into left field with two outs in the ninth, but the pivot point came with two outs in the eighth.

The Cubs had a one-run lead, lefty Travis Wood warming up in the bullpen and setup guy Pedro Strop on the mound with a runner on third. MVP-level performer Paul Goldschmidt hit a 2-2, 95-mph fastball back up the middle to tie the game.

“We were not trying to throw that pitch on that count,” Maddon said. “We had different strategies set up. It didn’t play out, and that’s the way it happens sometimes. He easily could have struck him out, hit a groundball at somebody, popped him up. The guy on deck’s a pretty good hitter, too (David Peralta).”

What about the idea of simply walking Goldschmidt?

“Stropy’s pretty good,” Maddon said. “He made (Goldschmidt) look pretty bad yesterday. I kind of like the matchup with the breaking ball. We just didn’t get to it and he got a hit.

“I’m good with everything. I felt really strongly about Stropy right there and we got a pitch in the wrong spot. The guy’s a good hitter.”

[SHOP: Gear up, Cubs fans!]

So is Schwarber. This group is still positioned to withstand that loss, even while missing a feared hitter in the middle of their lineup and the flexibility of having a third catcher who can also play the outfield. Theo Epstein’s front office gave a three-time Manager of the Year a roster stocked with blue-chip talent and mix-and-match pieces.

This is Jorge Soler’s time to show he belongs in left field as an everyday player. Ben Zobrist made a name for himself as the game’s preeminent super-utility guy, and Maddon said there could be times he moves from second base to the outfield. The same goes for All-Star third baseman Kris Bryant, who can handle all three spots in the outfield.

Javier Baez (left thumb contusion) may or may not be ready at some point during next week’s opening homestand at Wrigley Field. And where would the Cubs be if they hadn’t kept the door open for Dexter Fowler, signing him to a one-year, $13 million deal in late February?

“We’re going to have the ability to put a lineup full of really talented position players on the field every night,” Epstein said. “But Kyle is unique in a lot of ways. To begin with, he’s a big part of our identity, on the field and off the field. The unique skill set on the field – and then what he stands for and how he carries himself off the field.

“No one’s going to replace Kyle Schwarber. But we have a lot of talented players that now need to step up to the forefront.”

The Cubs understood Schwarber’s all-out style could lead to the crash that dropped him to the warning track on Thursday night, running into Fowler while trying to chase down a flyball headed toward the left-center field gap.

“He seemed ready for this year – to break out and become just a bigger star in the game,” first baseman Anthony Rizzo said. “Everything happens for a reason. Why did this happen to him at this moment? What’s going on here? Who knows? But he’s going to attack it head on and do the best he can to come back next year stronger.”

Epstein and chairman Tom Ricketts have both said the money will be there at the trade deadline if – or when – the roster needs midseason upgrades. The Cubs also have what Baseball Prospectus ranked as the 12th-best farm system in baseball and a surplus of position-player prospects with so many hitters already established in Chicago.

“It’s part of the game,” Rizzo said. “No matter who it is, you got to be ready to keep going. At the end of the day, the sun is still going to rise.

“We got to go out there and do a job, no matter who goes down. We all understand that. This will be something that I think brings all of us closer.”

When Kyle Schwarber met new Cubs hitting coach Chili Davis: 'I don't suck'

When Kyle Schwarber met new Cubs hitting coach Chili Davis: 'I don't suck'

MESA, Ariz. — The first thing Kyle Schwarber told his new hitting coach?

"His first statement to me is, 'I don't suck.'"

The Cubs hired Chili Davis as the team's new hitting coach for myriad reasons. He's got a great track record from years working with the Boston Red Sox and Oakland Athletics, and that .274/.360/.451 slash line during an illustrious 19-year big league career certainly helps.

But Davis' main immediate task in his new gig will be to help several of the Cubs' key hitters prove Schwarber's assessment correct.

Schwarber had a much-publicized tough go of things in 2017. After he set the world on fire with his rookie campaign in 2015 and returned from what was supposed to be a season-ending knee injury in time to be one of the Cubs' World Series heroes in 2016, he hit just .211 last season, getting sent down to Triple-A Iowa for a stint in the middle of the season. Schwarber still hit 30 home runs, but his 2017 campaign was seen as a failure by a lot of people.

Enter Davis, who now counts Schwarber as one of his most important pupils.

"He's a worker," Davis said in an interview with NBC Sports Chicago. "Schwarbs, he knows he's a good player. His first statement to me is, 'I don't suck.' He said last year was just a fluke year. He said, 'I've never failed in my life.' And he said, 'I'm going to get back to the player that I was.'

"I think he may have — and this is my thought, he didn't say this to me — I think it may have been, he had a big World Series, hit some homers, and I think he tried to focus on being more of a home run type guy as opposed to being a good hitter.

"His focus has changed. I had nothing to do with that, he came in here with that focus that he wants to be a good hitter first and let whatever happens happen. And he's worked on that. The main thing with Kyle is going to be is just maintaining focus."

The physically transformed Schwarber mentioned last week that he's established a good relationship with Davis, in no small part because Schwarber can relate to what Davis went through when he was a player. And to hear Davis tell it, it sounds like he's describing Schwarber's first three years as a big leaguer to a T.

"Telling him my story was important because it was similar," Davis said. "I was a catcher, got to big league camp, and I was thrown in the outfield. And I hated the outfield. ... But I took on the challenge. I made the adjustment, I had a nice first year, then my second year I started spiraling. I started spiraling down, and I remember one of my coaches saying, 'I'm going to have to throw you a parachute just so you can land softly.' I got sent down to Triple-A at the All-Star break for 15 days.

"When I got sent down, I was disappointed, but I was also really happy. I needed to get away from the big league pressure and kind of find myself again. I went home and refocused myself and thought to myself, 'I'm going to come back as Chili.' Because I tried to change, something changed about me the second year.

"And when I did that, I came back the next year and someone tried to change me and I said, 'Pump the breaks a little bit, let me fail my way, and then I'll come to you if I'm failing.' And they understood that, and I had a nice year, a big year and my career took off.

"I'm telling him, 'Hey, let last year go. It happened, it's in the past. Keep working hard, maintain your focus, and you'll be fine.'"

Getting Schwarber right isn't Davis' only task, of course. Despite the Cubs being one of the highest-scoring teams in baseball last season, they had plenty of guys go through subpar seasons. Jason Heyward still has yet to find his offensive game since coming to Chicago as a high-priced free agent. Ben Zobrist was bothered by a wrist injury last season and put up the worst numbers of his career. Addison Russell had trouble staying healthy, as well, and saw his numbers dip from what they were during the World Series season in 2016.

So Davis has plenty of charges to work with. But he likes what he's seen so far.

"They work," Davis said. "They come here to work. I had a group of guys in Boston that were the same last year, and it makes my job easier. They want to get better, they come out every day, they show up, they want to work. They're excited, and I'm excited to be around them.

And what have the Cubs found out about Davis? Just about everyone answers that question the same way: He likes to talk.

"I'm not going to stop talking," he said. "If I stop talking, something's wrong."

SportsTalk Live Podcast: Andre Dawson talks about his Cubs reunion


SportsTalk Live Podcast: Andre Dawson talks about his Cubs reunion

Carmen DeFalco (ESPN 1000) and Jordan Bernfield join Kap on the panel. Anthony Rizzo returns to the Cubs after an emotional weekend home while Tom Ricketts expects another World Series parade. Plus Hall of Famer Andre Dawson joins Kap to talk about his Cubs reunion and how the current crop unsigned free agents compares to his experiences with collusion.