Cubs

Could Gerrit Cole be the answer in Cubs' search for starting pitcher?

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USA TODAY

Could Gerrit Cole be the answer in Cubs' search for starting pitcher?

Things going nowhere with the best starting pitchers on the free-agent market? Why not make a trade?

The Cubs — connected all offseason to free-agent starters Yu Darvish, Jake Arrieta and Alex Cobb — might be looking to improve their rotation in some other fashion, as according to a report they’ve talked with the division-rival Pittsburgh Pirates about superstar hurler Gerrit Cole.

Now that would be some kind of blockbuster.

Cole, a 27-year-old right-hander, is under control for two more seasons and would be quite the addition to a starting rotation that already features Jon Lester, Kyle Hendricks, Jose Quintana and the recently signed Tyler Chatwood. Arrieta’s departure to free agency means the Cubs have a big hole to fill on that starting staff, and boy would Cole fill it.

Cole’s pitched five major league seasons in Pittsburgh, owning a 3.50 career ERA. He’s coming off a less-than-fantastic 2017 in which he turned in a career-high 4.26 ERA in a National League best 33 starts, but he also racked up 196 strikeouts, the second highest total of his career. His 203 innings of work were just five off his career high.

He’s just two years removed from a sensational 2015, in which his 2.60 ERA and 202 strikeouts put him fourth in NL Cy Young voting and sent him to his lone All-Star appearance.

Of course, the likelihood of acquiring Cole might not be as high as Twitter users would like.

The Houston Astros and New York Yankees are also said to be talking with the Pirates about Cole, and as Heyman noted, both teams have farm systems better than the Cubs’, loaded with talent that could speed along a rebuilding effort in Pittsburgh. The Pirates also would figure to be wary about trading Cole to a division rival.

The Cubs, though, have seen some of their young position players mentioned in trade speculation regularly this winter. If the likes of Kyle Schwarber, Ian Happ or even Javy Baez be enough to land Cole? Would the Cubs even want to go down that road with a division rival?

It’s just the typical hot-stove chatter for now. But the Cubs’ pursuit of a top-of-the-line starting pitcher continues.

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."