Kyle Schwarber shows why he's a freak of nature who can do some World Series damage for Cubs

Kyle Schwarber shows why he's a freak of nature who can do some World Series damage for Cubs

CLEVELAND — Kyle Schwarber is a freak of nature, a hitter with the hand-eye coordination, explosiveness and guts to do what should be impossible. But it’s a bad sign for the Cubs when a guy who hadn’t seen big-league action in 201 days looked like one of the toughest outs in their World Series lineup.

Now you know why the Cubs believed Schwarber could help get them that championship parade down Michigan Avenue — and how the Cleveland Indians won’t just fade into history’s background as The Other Team. After a 6-0 loss, the question now becomes: How soon will Schwarber be ready to play the outfield?

“No, not right now,” Schwarber said.

Schwarber walked into the Progressive Field interview room at 4 p.m. on Tuesday, becoming the biggest Game 1 story after his stunning recovery from major surgery on his left knee. He didn’t have a hit all season — a brutal collision on April 7 was supposed to knock him out until Opening Day 2017 — but there was his name in the No. 5 spot as the designated hitter against Corey Kluber.

“Once I hit that line, a lot of emotions will come pouring out,” Schwarber said. “I’ll probably cry at some point today. It was a long road, but once we step in between those lines, it’s game time. I’m going to be locked in. I’m going to be ready to go (and) try to win this.”

Schwarber had tracked roughly 1,300 pitches off a machine at the team’s spring-training complex and gotten eight plate appearances with the Mesa Solar Sox in the Arizona Fall League, where about 100 people might watch those games.

Now Schwarber stepped into the batter’s box for the franchise’s first World Series game in 71 years in front of a sellout crowd (38,091) and a national-TV audience. A “Let’s go, Cubs!” chant started in the second inning before Schwarber struck out swinging against Kluber, who notched eight strikeouts through the first three innings.

But Schwarber at least got acclimated against the 2014 American League Cy Young Award winner, just missing a home run in his next at-bat, slamming Kluber’s first-pitch fastball off the right-center field wall for a two-out double in the fourth inning.

That’s why the Cubs arranged for a private plane to fly him on Monday from the Phoenix area to Cleveland, where he could change franchise history with one big swing, the way he drilled five homers during last year’s playoffs and became a Wrigleyville folk hero.

“With him, anything is possible,” said manager Joe Maddon, who didn’t hesitate to put Schwarber in the lineup.

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It’s hard to overstate how much the Cubs love his energy, presence and powerful left-handed swing, ever since they saw his hard-charging style at Indiana University and recognized the football mentality that made him an All-Ohio linebacker in high school. Theo Epstein’s front office drafted Schwarber fourth overall in 2014, back when it almost looked like a reach for a DH with an unclear defensive future behind the plate or in the outfield.

After getting a better-than-expected progress report last week from Dr. Daniel Cooper — the head team physician for the Dallas Cowboys who reconstructed his ACL and repaired his LCL — Schwarber went full speed ahead. That’s really his only gear.

“I called Theo right away and I was like: ‘Hey, I’d love the opportunity to try,’” Schwarber said. “Knowing that I had the opportunity to try and get back, it would kill me deep down inside if I didn’t. And I knew going into it there were no guarantees.

“I didn’t want the media attention. I didn’t want any of that. I did it for my teammates. I did it for me, too. That’s the competitor in me.”

The Cubs made Schwarber untouchable in any trade talks, even as the New York Yankees dangled Andrew Miller, who now looms as another World Series X-factor in the Cleveland bullpen.

Schwarber worked a six-pitch walk against Miller in the seventh inning before the dominant left-handed reliever escaped a bases-loaded, no-outs jam by getting Willson Contreras to fly out to shallow center field and striking out Addison Russell and David Ross.

Miller (0.00 ERA this postseason) won the battle with two runners on in the eighth inning, striking out Schwarber swinging at an 84-mph slider to end the threat.

“He didn’t show any rust, did he?” Miller said. “You hope that somebody like that is either having to cheat for balls or guess or do something. (But) I don’t think we can write him off as somebody that’s rusty or that’s not ready to play. It’s impressive.”

The Cubs can still feel it coming — especially after forcing Miller to throw 46 pitches — and they will need Schwarber against a Cleveland team that isn’t just happy to be here.

“He had a postseason for the ages last year,” Epstein said. “He’s only had four or five days of live pitching. But some things transcend standards and routine, and we think he’s capable of some special things.

“He’s going to face great pitching, so he’s going to make outs, just like all our guys. But we think there’ll be a moment where he does something special for us.”

Scouting the Cubs' competition: Can anybody dethrone the Dodgers?


Scouting the Cubs' competition: Can anybody dethrone the Dodgers?

The expectations couldn't be any higher for the 2018 Chicago Cubs. 

It's 2016 all over again. The goal isn't just a trip to the playoffs or another NL pennant. It's World Series or bust for this group of North Siders.

With that, let's take a look at all of the teams that could stand in the way of the Cubs getting back to the Fall Classic:

Los Angeles Dodgers

2017 record: 104-58, 1st place in NL West

Offseason additions: Matt Kemp, Scott Alexander, Brian Schlitter (former Cub still in the league), Pat Venditte (switch-pitcher), Hamlet Marte (only included because his name is "Hamlet")

Offseason departures: Yu Darvish, Brandon Morrow, Tony Watson, Adrian Gonzalez, Curtis Granderson, Andre Ethier, Franklin Gutierrez, Scott Van Slyke, Brandon McCarthy, Luis Avilan, Scott Kazmir

X-factor: Chris Taylor/Alex Wood

Cheating a bit here and going with two guys.

Wood has been a very good and very underrated pitcher for his entire career, but he also has struggled to stay healthy. He made just 27 appearances (25 starts) last season and has pitched more than 172 innings in a season just once (2015).

Wood has a career 3.20 ERA and led the league in winning percentage last season after going 16-3. We all know Clayton Kershaw is the best pitcher on the planet (again, when healthy), but if Wood can take the ball every fifth day, it takes so much pressure off Kershaw and makes the Dodgers that much more formidable.

Taylor came from out of absolutely nowhere last year to turn in a heck of a season - .288/.354/.496 slash line, 21 HR, 72 RBI, 85 R, 17 SB - and sat atop the Dodgers order as they marched all the way to Game 7 of the World Series. 

The power was a huge surprise, but he's always had speed, hit for a high average and drawn walks, so if the power plays again, he's a huge weapon, especially with Justin Turner down with a wrist injury now. And the power actually looks legit after a swing and philosophy change.

Projected lineup

1. Chris Taylor - CF
2. Corey Seager - SS
3. Cody Bellinger - 1B
4. Yasiel Puig - RF
5. Yasmani Grandal - C
6. Joc Pederson - LF
7. Logan Forsythe - 3B
8. Chase Utley - 2B

Projected rotation

1. Clayton Kershaw
2. Alex Wood
3. Kenta Maeda
4. Rich Hill
5. Hyun-jin Ryu


Turner's broken wrist is a huge blow to the Dodgers before the season has even begun, especially when he's suddenly like the best right-handed hitter on the planet not named Mike Trout or Kris Bryant. 

Turner was always a solid utility player for the Mets but not much of a hitter (.696 OPS in 301 games with the Mets). In L.A., however, Turner has an .881 OPS in four years, including an incredible .945 OPS in 2017.

He's the anchor of their lineup and any time he misses is a big loss. But this Dodgers team is so talented around him that they'll be fine getting into the playoffs. Turner was bound to miss time anyways - he's played in more than 130 games in a season just once in his career.

The only thing that could slow this team down would be more injuries, especially if Kershaw's balky back rears its ugly head again. 

This may be the most talented roster in the National League (once Turner returns), so even in an NL West where four teams may be competing for the division title, the Dodgers should take the cake once again.

But will they have enough left in the tank to get past the Cubs or Nationals to represent the NL in the World Series once again?

Prediction: 1st in NL West

Complete opposition research

Los Angeles Dodgers
San Francisco Giants
Arizona Diamondbacks
Colorado Rockies
San Diego Padres

Here are the sharp holiday and special event uniforms that the Cubs will be rocking this season


Here are the sharp holiday and special event uniforms that the Cubs will be rocking this season

MLB will once again commemorate several holidays and special events during the 2018 season.

Monday, the league revealed the uniforms teams will don on Jackie Robinson Day, Mother's Day, Father's Day, and during Memorial Day weekend and Independence Day weekend.

The Cubs' regular uniforms are great, of course, but their special event uniforms are solid as well. Take a look:

Not too shabby, eh? In addition to the special caps and jerseys, MLB teams will be rocking unique socks and patches for each occasion. A complete collection of the uniforms can be found here.