Cubs

Another year, another non-update on potential Sammy Sosa reunion from Cubs Convention

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AP

Another year, another non-update on potential Sammy Sosa reunion from Cubs Convention

Tom Ricketts actually got more than halfway through his Cubs Convention session before Sammy Sosa was finally brought up. 

You see, the Sosa question has become an annual staple at Cubs Convention, particularly in Ricketts' panel. 

Sosa may be undergoing some bizarre physical changes, but he still resonates with fans of all ages after delighting the Wrigley Field faithful for a decade. 

"I know people won't recognize him..." the fan qualified while still asking Ricketts when Sosa might make his way back to the Cubs Convention.

Ricketts declined to talk about Sosa specifically, but mentioned the Steroid Era as a whole.

"Yeah, I've talked about this a lot over the years and it seems to come up every year," Ricketts said. "I really believe that all the players from that era, who went through that performance-enhancing, steroid era, I think we owe them a lot of understanding.

"I think we have to put ourselves in their shoes and be very, very sympathetic to all the decisions they had to make. And, as it turns out, after testing began in 2002, a large number of players tested positive.

"So I think we all need to be sensitive and understand their situation. But I also believe that players from that era owe us a little bit of honest, and I kind of feel like the only way to turn this page is to put everything on the table.

"And I think that's kind of a better answer. So that's kind of the way I feel. We'll see what happens in the future."

In a media session after his panel, Ricketts was asked again, specifically about Sosa.

"I'm not gonna talk about Sammy in particular," Ricketts said. "I'm just gonna talk about the whole era. I just think we need to put everything on the table and move forward."

OK, so if Sosa admits to PED use, he can come back to the Cubs "family"?

Ricketts wasn't the owner of the Cubs during Sosa's tenure on Chicago's North Side, but "Slammin' Sammy" brought countless millions to the organization, whether he took PEDs or not. (For the record, Sosa reportedly tested positive for PEDs in 2003, but he was never suspended.)

Sure, he's officially entered the Upside Down now, but the Cubs Convention is for the fans and there certainly seems to be no shortage of fans interested in seeing Sammy Sosa...even if people won't immediately recognize him.

Sosa's fellow late-'90s/early-2000s sluggers Mark McGwire and Barry Bonds haven't exactly come forward with any admission of PED guilt and neither guy has any trouble finding a job or role in today's Major League Baseball. 

Ricketts and the Cubs don't employ either McGwire or Bonds, but they did boast Manny Ramirez — a similar product of the era who was suspended for PEDs twice during his career — as a hitting instructor for three seasons through 2016.

Of course, the end of Sosa's Cubs tenure had more to it than just the suspicion of steroid use, with the slugger not leaving on the best terms with the team and his teammates before getting traded away to the Baltimore Orioles.

This has been your yearly Sammy Sosa Cubs Convention update.

Javier Baez does more Javier Baez things in Cubs' blowout win over Rockies

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USA TODAY

Javier Baez does more Javier Baez things in Cubs' blowout win over Rockies

Javier Baez continued his hot streak on Friday night.

The 25-year-old infielder went 4-for-6 with a homer, a double and four RBIs as the Cubs cruised past the Colorado Rockies, 16-5. Batting in the second spot, he fell a triple short of the cycle.

This GIF was basically Baez all night: 

His night started with a two-run homer in the first inning. Did it look familiar?

Baez now has nine hits in his last 16 at-bats. He also ranks second in the league in RBIs this season with 20, trailing Jed Lowrie (21) of the Oakland A's.

On Friday night, his play drew some "Javy! Javy! Javy!" chants multiple times from the Coors Field crowd, one of which came after a risky baserunning play in the fifth inning. Baez was on second base when Kris Bryant hit a chopper to the shortstop. Baez took off for third. He was initially called out, but it was overturned after a video review. Two runs would go on to score, and the Cubs would continue to pour it on the rest of the game.

Just another game of Javy doing Javy things.

Meet the new Kyle Schwarber

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AP

Meet the new Kyle Schwarber

It would be easy to point to Kyle Schwarber's new six-pack as the main reason why he's off to a solid start at the plate.

But Schwarber's offensive prowess is more related to the work he's done inside his own head, not on being in the Best Shape of His Life.

He's out to prove he's more than just a three true outcomes guy.

In the Cubs' 8-5 win over the St. Louis Cardinals Thursday, Schwarber flashed a different part of his game with a pair of groundball RBI singles that helped stake his team to an early lead.

Cubs manager Joe Maddon also pointed to Schwarber's lineout up the middle in the eighth inning as his favorite at-bat, even above the run-scoring hits.

"That's as good as I've seen him in a while," Maddon said.

Schwarber is hitting the ball with authority up the middle and the other way, shortening up his swing with two strikes and finding ways to beat the shift by just sticking his bat out and directing the ball to the left side of second base, where teams only have one defender.

Schwarber is still largely a three true outcomes guy, on pace for 30 homers, 101 walks and 172 strikeouts.

But he no longer looks so stressed/anxious with runners in scoring position. He's been working toward relaxing with guys on base and instead of trying to put every ball out onto Sheffield Ave., he's doing what he can to just put the ball in play.

He insists his thought process with runners in scoring position hasn't changed since last year, but he is definitely getting better results now.

After starting the year 0-for-9 with runners in scoring position, Schwarber went 3-for-6 in such situations on the Cubs' recent homestand. Even more impressive: All three hits have come with two outs and went to center or left field.

"I'm not trying to go out there and put a lot of pressure on myself because that's when negative things are gonna happen," Schwarber said. "You just gotta be able to have that same approach you have when there's no one on base."

Since the start of the 2017 season, here are Schwarber's numbers based on runners:

Bases empty: .220 AVG, .831 OPS
Runners on: .206 AVG, .730 OPS

The Cubs are trying to get him back to his 2015 form when he exploded onto the major-league scene to hit .270 with a .914 OPS with runners on base.

There is reason for optimism and the numbers back up Schwarber's progress.

In 2017, 83 percent of his season RBI came on home runs — he only had 10 RBI that didn't come from longballs.

This year, he already has 5 RBI on non-homers and there is still roughly 90 percent of the season remaining. Only 44 percent of his 2018 RBI have come on dingers.

As impressive as anything, Schwarber ranks 17th in baseball in walk percentage (16.9 percent) while also reducing his strikeout percentage slightly from last year's struggles

Schwarber has spent a lot of time working with new hitting coach Chili Davis, but he won't allow himself to ride the daily roller coaster based off recent success, even if it is helping his confidence.

"Yeah, I've been feeling good," Schwarber said. "There's been some tough at-bats here and there, but still taking the walks and also trying to get those guys in when they're on and go from there.

"Not gonna get too high, not gonna get too low when things are going bad. Just stay right in the middle."

When Schwarber is producing like this and Javy Baez is ascending to star status, this Cubs offense won't be struggling to find consistency for long.

"If these two guys keep on doing [this], wow," Maddon said. "Sky's the limit."