Cubs

What's the issue with Wade Davis right now?

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USA TODAY

What's the issue with Wade Davis right now?

Wade Davis is still having a perfect season.

Let's get that out of the way right now. 

The Cubs closer is 23-for-23 in save chances and despite some hiccups lately, has always found a way to get the job done.

But he's also shown he's mortal, giving up eight runs over his last 16.2 innings dating back to June 11. In that time, Davis is also allowing nearly two baserunners an inning on average, surrendering 18 hits and an alarming 12 walks.

Davis suffered the loss Thursday in The Willson Contreras Game when he gave up a pair of homers to Paul Goldschmidt and J.D. Martinez in the top of the ninth. Two days later, Davis walked a pair of batters before striking out Bryce Harper on his 30th pitch to end the game and halting a three-game losing streak.

Cubs manager Joe Maddon believes a 30-minute rain delay might've contributed to Davis' problem Thursday, when he gave up two homers in a relief outing for the first time in his career.

But even apart from that outing, Davis has looked off over the past couple months after boasting an 0.84 ERA and 0.75 WHIP in his first 22 appearances.

"I just think he's trying to be too fine early in the count," Maddon said. "He can throw a strike whenever he wants to. I've always felt that way about him. And you can see it. His stuff's the same.

"He's just a little bit off with the relief point. You can constantly see him trying to figure out at the end of his delivery. But I've always seen that. This is nothing new for me with him. I have a lot of faith in him."

Maddon has known Davis since the lanky right-hander came into the league in 2009 as a starting pitcher with the Tampa Bay Rays. Maddon thinks maybe Davis is reverting back to that starter's mentality and trying to be too perfect early, subsequently falling behind 1-0 or 2-0 consistently.

Davis, however, scoffed at that notion.

"No. Not even close. There's never any time where I'm trying to be too fine with anything," Davis said. "Sometimes you just go through slumps, I guess.

"I'm never trying to be too fine. I'm always trying to pitch aggressively in the zone. Sometimes it just doesn't go there."

Davis is a cerebral guy who is always thinking and adapting along with the game. He compared his issues right now with a hitter going through a slump at the plate — just the natural ebb and flow of baseball.

"Just different timing," he said. "Earlier in the year, my stuff wasn't as good, but my timing was really good. Now, my arm feels strong and better, but my timing is off from time to time."

Davis said he's had this kind of issue every year of his career, but also typically gets stronger as the season goes along and his arm feels better now than it did even in April and May when he had a 0.00 ERA.

But all along, whether he's going good or bad, Davis is the exact same guy. Same temperment, same body language, same mood. 

"He's mellow, man," Maddon said. "That's who he is. You talk to him as he's coming off the field after the game's over and he's barely breathing. That's just who he is.

"He's a very calm player. He's always been that guy from spring trainings to the middle of the season to shooting a black bear in Toronto."

That calm demeanor has helped Davis become one of the elite closers in the game. Even if the tying run is 90 feet way, he has the same level of confidence in his stuff and abilities.

He also doesn't pump his fist after big outs or nailing down clutch saves. He maintains an even keel in the middle of the road.

"I try to," he said. "As soon as you think you're good, then you get your ass kicked. And when you're going bad, you're not nearly as bad as you think you are.

"You wanna be in your own shoes, stay in your own lane."

The Brewers have emerged as a darkhorse in the race for top starting pitchers

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USA TODAY

The Brewers have emerged as a darkhorse in the race for top starting pitchers

The Milwaukee Brewers are making sure nobody forgets about them in the National League Central.

While the St. Louis Cardinals continue to make trades and the Cubs remain linked to the top starting pitchers on the market even after signing three pitchers, the Brewers have been rather quiet. All winter, the only noteworthy moves from Milwaukee came in the form of under-the-radar pitcher signings — starters Jhoulys Chacin and Yovani Gallardo plus reliever Boone Logan.

Beyond that, the Brewers have added a bunch of other low-leverage players — catcher Christian Bethancourt and relievers J.J. Hoover, Ernesto Frieri, Michael Brady and Erik Davis. (Nobody would blame you if you haven't heard of any of those players before.)

But maybe the Brewers have just been saving their cash for one of the big guys, with Ken Rosenthal confirming a report Sunday night Milwaukee is not only one of the teams in on Yu Darvish, but they've even made a formal offer:

The Brewers securing Darvish or one of the other top pitchers — Jake Arrieta or Alex Cobb — would be a huge development in their effort to keep pace with the Cubs and Cardinals in the division.

Milwaukee was a surprise contender in 2017 before they faded down the stretch. The main reason they hung around the top of the NL Central all year was a shockingly-effective pitching staff.

However, the Brewers have some serious pitching questions long-term that need to be addressed. Beyond Chase Anderson and Zach Davies in the rotation, there are no sure things. 

Jimmy Nelson underwent shoulder surgery last fall and it's currently unknown when he can be counted on again, though things are progressing ahead of schedule. Junior Guerra — the 33-year-old right-hander formerly of the White Sox — went 9-3 with a 2.81 ERA in 20 starts in 2016 but followed that up with some serious struggles in 2017 (5.12 ERA, 1.48 WHIP).

Chacin, 30, was good in 2017 (13-10, 3.89 ERA, 1.27 WHIP), but struggled with health and inconsistent performance in the five seasons prior. Gallardo, 31, has a 5.57 ERA and 1.55 WHIP over the last two seasons. 

All that adds up to a staff that doesn't inspire much confidence behind a high-powered offense led by Ryan Braun, Travis Shaw, Domingo Santana, Eric Thames plus up-and-comers Lewis Brinson and Orlando Arcia.

Adding Arrieta or Darvish would certainly go quite far in improving the Brewers' biggest weakness and even Cobb could be a serious game-changer in Milwaukee.

As an interesting footnote to the whole Darvish rumor, the minute after Rosenthal confirmed the report, the Brewers official Twitter account took a shot at the Cubs:

Cubs Twitter — never one to back down from a good-natured social media spat — responded Monday morning with a sick comeback:

One MLB executive thinks Kyle Schwarber can emerge as Cubs' best hitter in 2018

One MLB executive thinks Kyle Schwarber can emerge as Cubs' best hitter in 2018

When the 2017 season ended, Cubs left fielder Kyle Schwarber looked in the mirror and didn't like what he saw.

He was stocky, slower than he wanted to be and he had just finished a very difficult season that saw him spend time back in the minor leagues at Triple-A after he struggled mightily through the first three months of the season.

Schwarber still put up solid power numbers despite his overall struggles. He slammed 30 home runs, putting him among the Top 15 hitters in the National League and among the Top 35 in all of baseball. But, Schwarber was honest with himself. He knew he could achieve so much more if he was in better shape and improved his mobility, his overall approach at the plate and his defense.

Schwarber was drafted by the Cubs out of Indiana University as a catcher. However, many scouts around baseball had serious doubts about his ability to catch at the big league level. The Cubs were in love with Schwarber the person and Schwarber the overall hitter and felt they would give him a chance to prove he could catch for them. If he couldn't, then they believed he could play left field adequately enough to keep his powerful bat in the lineup.

However, a serious knee injury early in the 2016 season knocked Schwarber out of action for six months and his return to the Cubs in time to assist in their World Series run raised expectations for a tremendous 2017 season. In fact, the expectations for Schwarber were wildly unrealistic when the team broke camp last spring. Manager Joe Maddon had Schwarber in the everyday lineup batting leadoff and playing left field.

But Schwarber's offseason after the World Series consisted of more rehab on his still-healing injured left knee. That kept him from working on his outfield play, his approach at the plate and his overall baseball training. 

Add in all of the opportunities and commitments that come with winning a World Series and it doesn't take much detective work to understand why Schwarber struggled so much when the 2017 season began. This offseason, though, has been radically different. A season-ending meeting with Cubs president Theo Epstein and general manager Jed Hoyer led to a decision to take weight off of Schwarber's frame. It also included a decision to change his training program so that he improved his quickness, lateral movement and his overall baseball skills.

"I took two weeks off after the season ended and then I went to work," Schwarber said. "We put a plan together to take weight off and to improve my quickness. I have my meals delivered and I feel great. My baseball work combined with a lot of strength and conditioning has me in the best shape that I have ever been in."

Schwarber disagrees with the pundits who felt manager Maddon's decision to put him in the leadoff spot in the Cubs' loaded lineup contributed to his struggles.

"I have no problem hitting wherever Joe wants to put me," Schwarber said. "I didn't feel any more pressure because I was batting leadoff. I just needed to get back to training for a baseball season as opposed to rehabbing from my knee injury. I'm probably 20-25 pounds lighter and I'm ready to get back to Arizona with the boys and to get ready for the season."

Many around the game were shocked when the Cubs drafted Schwarber with the No. 4 overall selection in the 2014 MLB Draft, but a rival executive who was not surprised by the pick believes that Schwarber can indeed return to the form that made him such a feared hitter during his rookie season as well as his excellent postseason resume.

"Everyone who doubted this kid may end up way off on their evaluation because he is a great hitter and now that he is almost two years removed from his knee injury," the executive said. "He knows what playing at the major-league level is all about I expect him to be a real force in the Cubs lineup.

"Theo and Jed do not want to trade this kid and they are going to give him every opportunity to succeed. I think he has a chance to be as good a hitter as they have in their order."

Watch the full 1-on-1 interview with Kyle Schwarber Sunday night on NBC Sports Chicago.