Cubs

Win it for Schwarbs? 'This is what we're supposed to do'

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AP

Win it for Schwarbs? 'This is what we're supposed to do'

Kyle Schwarber saw the media contingent around him growing larger and put a quick stop to the questions.

He knew he messed up when he dropped Daniel Murphy's fly ball in the sixth inning and promptly kicked it for back-to-back errors that cost the Cubs a run.

And he wanted to own it. No excuses.

"I should've caught that ball and I didn't and that led to a run," Schwarber said, looking reporters in the eye and staring directly into cameras. "I'm gonna take full responsbility on that, before anyone else asks me: It's my fault. The ball shoulda been caught and I didn't catch it."

But that's not how the story ended for Schwarber and the Cubs.

They clawed back the next inning, when Albert Almora Jr. pinch-hit for Schwarber and drove in Ben Zobrist to tie the game.

Then Anthony Rizzo played the hero and gave a "Gladiator"-esque performance afterwards.

"For us to be able to come back like that, that just speaks to the volumes of this team," Schwarber said. "We're not gonna ever give up. Everyone has each other's backs, and that's the most important part — they picked me up today. 

"When we were going through the line, I was giving everybody hugs because they picked me up right there and it was big."

Schwarber admitted he said "a lot of bad words" after Ryan Zimmerman doubled home Murphy in that sixth inning. But he said his teammates were relentless in their support, from Jason Heyward and Jon Jay in the outfield during the Cubs pitching change right after the dropped ball to the guys in the dugout refusing to let one of the most popular players in the clubhouse drop his head.

Not that he wanted to.

No, Schwarber isn't built like that. 

In the seventh inning, following Zobrist's one-out double to break up Max Scherzer's no-hitter, Schwarber was standing on deck and watched Nationals manager Dusty Baker come out to the mound.

Baker ultimately wound up yanking Scherzer to bring in Sammy Solis, a southpaw.

That meant the end of Schwarber's night, since he rarely gets to hit against lefties, especially that late in a game.

Almora was the call, which didn't disappoint Schwarber, but it did make him feel something as he hoped for a shot at redemption.

"I was just more pissed off because I just dropped the ball," Schwarber said. "I saw Scherzer trying to stay in there and I was like, 'Come on, stay in there.' I knew as soon as that lefty was coming in, Albert was gonna be pinch-hitting.

"I wasn't frustrated by that at all. I was more frustrated by what just happened. I saw Scherzer trying to talk into it, but it didn't work out. But hey, it worked out for us, that's for dang sure."

Schwarber's right, because Almora had his back.

"When I was pinch-hit for him, that was in the front of my head," Almora said. "I was thinking I wanna help him and Quintana, who did an unbeilevable job. I was just happy I did my job."

Almora said he didn't get a chance to speak to Schwarber before he pinch-hit for him in that crucial spot.

But you better believe the two talked after.

"I don't think he let me take two steps down the stairs before he grabbed me and gave me a huge hug and thanked me," Almora said. 

"I said, 'No way, this is OUR game. We're family. This is what we're supposed to do.'"

SportsTalk Live Podcast: Andre Dawson talks about his Cubs reunion

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USA TODAY

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. 

Cubs' World Series expectations are no surprise, but they show how radical transformation from Lovable Losers has been

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USA TODAY

Cubs' World Series expectations are no surprise, but they show how radical transformation from Lovable Losers has been

MESA, Ariz. — Tom Ricketts sure doesn’t sound like the guy who met his wife in the bleachers during the century-long tenure of the Lovable Losers.

“Everyone knows that this is a team that has the capability to win the World Series, and everyone will be disappointed if we don’t live up to that capability.”

Yeah, the Cubs have been among baseball’s best teams for three seasons now. That curse-smashing World Series win in 2016 was the high point of a three-year stretch of winning that’s seen three straight trips to the National League Championship Series and a combined 310 wins between the regular season and postseason.

But it’s still got to come as a strange sound to those who remember the Cubs as the longtime butt of so many baseball jokes. This team has one expectation, to win the World Series. The players have said it for a week leading up to Monday’s first full-squad workout. The front office said it when it introduced big-time free-agent signing Yu Darvish a week ago. And the chairman said it Monday.

“We very much expect to win,” Ricketts said. “We have the ability to win. Our division got a lot tougher, and the playoff opponents that we faced last year are likely to be there waiting for us again.

“I think at this point with this team, obviously that’s our goal. I won’t say a season’s a failure because you don’t win the World Series, but it is our goal.”

The confidence is not lacking. But more importantly, success drives expectations. And if the Cubs are going to be one of the best teams in baseball, they better keep winning, or they’ll fail to meet those expectations, expectations that can sometimes spin a little bit out of control.

During last year’s follow-up campaign to 2016’s championship run, a rocky start to the season that had the Cubs out of first place at the All-Star break was enough to make some fans feel like the sky was falling — as if one year without a World Series win would be unacceptable to a fan base that had just gone 108 without one.

After a grueling NLDS against the Washington Nationals, the Cubs looked well overmatched in the NLCS against the Los Angeles Dodgers, and that sparked plenty of outside criticism, as well as plenty of offseason activity to upgrade the club in the midst of baseball’s never-ending arms race.

“I think people forget we’ve won more games over the last three years than any other team. We’ve won more playoff games than any other team the last three years. And we’ve been to the NLCS three years in a row,” Ricketts said. “I think fans understand that this is a team that if we stay healthy and play up to our capability can be in that position, be in the World Series. I don’t blame them. We should have high expectations, we have a great team.”

On paper, there are plenty of reasons for high expectations. Certainly the team’s stated goals don’t seem outlandish or anything but expected. The addition of Darvish to a rotation that already boasted Jon Lester, Kyle Hendricks and Jose Quintana makes the Cubs’ starting staff the best in the NL, maybe the best in the game. There were additions to the bullpen, and the team’s fleet of young star position players went untouched despite fears it might be broken up to acquire pitching.

“I think this is, on paper, the strongest rotation that we’ve ever had,” Ricketts said. “I think that being able to bring in a player of (Darvish’s) caliber reminds everyone that we’re intending to win our division and go all the way.

“We’ve kept a good core of players together for several years, and this year I think our offseason moves have really set us up to be one of the best teams in baseball.

“Just coming out of our team meeting, the vibe feels a lot like two years ago. Everybody’s in a really good place. I think everyone’s really hungry and really wants to get this season off to a great start and make this a memorable year.”

There should be no surprise that the team and its players and its executives and its owners feel the way they do. The Cubs are now expected winners, even if that’s still yet to sink in for the longtime fans and observers of the team they once called the Lovable Losers.