Cubs

Cubs: Even Kyle Schwarber's teammates can't believe what they're seeing in World Series

Cubs: Even Kyle Schwarber's teammates can't believe what they're seeing in World Series

CLEVELAND — Kyle Schwarber fielded a question that, in light of another astonishing performance in the World Series, wasn’t ridiculous: Is this game just that easy for you?

Schwarber collected a pair of RBI singles and drew a walk in the Cubs’ 5-1 win over the Cleveland Indians in Game 2 of the World Series Wednesday night at Progressive Field. This is a guy who, until Tuesday, last saw a pitch from a major leaguer in early April and only had six at-bats against live pitching in the Arizona Fall League before being added to the Cubs’ World Series roster. 

“It’s not that easy, first off,” Schwarber said. “Baseball’s a crazy game.”

Crazy is one way to describe what Schwarber has done at the plate in the first two games of the World Series: In Game 1, he blasted a double off the right field wall off Indians ace Corey Kluber and worked a walk against all-world reliever Andrew Miller. In Game 2, he got the green light on a 3-0 fastball and ripped a single up the middle to score Anthony Rizzo in the third inning, and in the fifth, he punched a single through a drawn-in infield for another RBI. 

And it bears repeating, because it’s such a stunning fact on this stage: Schwarber went 201 days without a major league plate appearance. 

“We should just skip spring training next year,” third baseman Kris Bryant sarcastically quipped. “You'll be fine. Just jump right into the World Series and have success. No big deal."

After Schwarber’s first RBI single, Cubs president of baseball operations Theo Epstein was shown on Fox’s broadcast clapping and yelling “Atta Boy!” from the stands at Progressive Field. Epstein’s front office wouldn’t budge on dealing Schwarber to the New York Yankees for Miller, who’s become an X-Factor for the Indians in the postseason, seeing a searingly bright future for the former No. 4 overall pick in the middle of the Cubs’ lineup for years to come. 

But at the trade deadline, when he was still working through his grueling rehab from a torn ACL and LCL, nobody could’ve predicted Schwarber could be an X-Factor for the Cubs’ chances of winning their first World Series since 1908. 

“I can see why Theo sent a plane for him,” Indians manager Terry Francona said. “I would, too. That's a lot to ask, but special players can do special things.”

The visiting clubhouse and press conference room at Progressive Field was buzzing with Schwarber talk after the game, with plenty of the questions asked by the media centered around Schwarber. And everybody associated with the Cubs was more than happy to talk about him. 

“I mean, how do you square (pitches) up after that long when you're facing this quality of pitching?” left fielder Ben Zobrist said. “I mean, I feel like when I go into spring training every year, every ball going past me is 115 mph. To see the ball and be able to square it up like that, he's that good of a hitter."

“To even be able to put himself in this position to be on the World Series roster, and to contribute the way he has is remarkable,” starter Jake Arrieta said. “I’ve never seen anything like it. I remember hearing Smoltzy (Hall of Fame pitcher and Fox announcer John Smoltz) comment on the broadcast, and this guy played for 20 years, he said he's never seen anything like it. For a guy to be able to do something like this in his second year is just, you know, I'm kind of speechless.”

“I didn't know what to expect,” Bryant said. ‘I’m sure people expected the world out of him. We knew he'd contribute in some way and that's why he's on the roster, but for him to do it this quickly and have at-bats like that — I mean, every at-bat he's had so far, he's worked a count, a couple walks, big hits, it's really impressive."

With the World Series shifting to Wrigley Field for the next three games, Schwarber needs to be cleared by team doctors to play the field to stay in the Cubs’ lineup. It’s a medical decision that’s out of manager Joe Maddon’s hands, but if he has clearance to make Schwarber more than a pinch hitter over the weekend, the Cubs will roll with the middle of the order they envisioned at the start of the season. 

Bryant, Rizzo, Zobrist and Schwarber combined to reach base in 10 of their 20 plate appearances and drove in four of the Cubs’ five runs in Game 2. 

Said Maddon about having Schwarber hitting fifth: “It makes your lineup longer, it makes it thicker. It makes it better.”

Schwarber’s return from that devastating, gruesome injury could go down as one of the astonishing, improbable storylines in baseball history if he helps lead the Cubs to a championship. He wasn’t supposed to return to the Cubs’ lineup until 2017, but here he is, driving in runs, pumping up his teammates and blowing the minds of almost everyone watching the 2016 World Series. 

"I've never had to do what he's had to do. In this situation, I don't know that anybody has,” Zobrist said. “(He) sat out basically all year and then gets put on the playoff roster. No. 1, most teams wouldn't even do that, especially as a hitter. And then on top of that, to actually have quality at-bats and put some good swings on it — I mean, there's no one else in history that's done that, right? To get a hit in the World Series. It's just crazy. It really is."

Cubs executive Jason McLeod reportedly linked to Giants' GM opening

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USA TODAY

Cubs executive Jason McLeod reportedly linked to Giants' GM opening

Is this the offseason that Cubs executive Jason McLeod finally becomes an MLB general manager?

According to Bruce Levine, the Giants are reportedly interested in McLeod, the Cubs senior vice president of scouting and player development, for their vacant general manager position.

McLeod joined the Cubs' front office in 2011 alongside Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer. Before the Cubs, he spent six years in the Red Sox front office and two in the Padres' (with Hoyer, who was San Diego's general manager from 2010-2011). 

Of course, the Giants' reported interest in McLeod doesn't necessarily mean that he will interview for the job. However, it's worth noting that McLeod interviewed for the Twins' general manager job in 2016; he also withdrew his name from consideration for the Padres' general manager job in 2014. 

In addition to the Giants, McLeod's name has been linked to the Mets' general manager vacancy. This is more speculation, but the point is that it seems to be only a matter of time before McLeod is hired as general manager elsewhere.

For what it's worth, though, McLeod is under contract through 2021 and has previously said that he is grateful to be with the Cubs. 

“I’m exceptionally grateful,” McLeod said. “All of us are. Look at where we are at this moment in time with this team," McLeod said in 2016. "I can’t imagine a better environment, a better culture to work at in baseball.

"We’ve been together a long time. We’re friends. We’re good. We embrace the fact that we are good. And we challenge ourselves to be even better.”

Cubs have new hitting coach in Anthony Iapoce

Cubs have new hitting coach in Anthony Iapoce

The Cubs are heading into a new season with a different hitting coach for the second straight winter, but the most recent choice is a familiar face.

Anthony Iapoce is set to join Joe Maddon's coaching staff this week after serving in the same capacity with the Texas Rangers for the last three seasons. The Cubs confirmed the move Monday afternoon shortly after the news broke out of the Rangers camp.

The Cubs fired Chili Davis last week after just one season as the team's hitting coach.

Entering the final week of the season, the Rangers fired manager Jeff Banister, leaving Iapoce and the rest of the Texas coaching staff in limbo.

As such, Iapoce is rejoining the Cubs, where he served as a special assistant to the General Manager from 2013-15 focusing on player development, particularly in the hitting department throughout the minor leagues.

Iapoce has familiarity with a bunch of the current star offensive players on the Cubs, from Willson Contreras to Kris Bryant. 

Both Bryant and Contreras endured tough 2018 seasons at the plate, which was a huge reason for the Cubs' underperforming lineup. Bryant's issue was more related to a left shoulder injured suffered in mid-May while Contreras' offensive woes remain a major question mark after the young catcher looked to be emerging as a legitimate superstar entering the campaign.

Getting Contreras back to the hitter that put up 21 homers and 74 RBI in only 117 games in 2017 will be one of the main goals for Iapoce, so the history between the two could be a key.

With the Rangers, Iapoce oversaw an offense that ranked 7th, 9th and 14th in MLB in runs scored over the last three seasons. The decline in offensive production is obviously not a great sign, but the Rangers as a team have fallen off greatly since notching the top seed in the AL playoffs in 2016 with 95 wins only to lose 95 games in 2018, resulting in the change at manager.

Iapoce has worked with an offense backed by Adrian Beltre, Elvis Andrus, Shin-Soo Choo, Nomar Mazara and Joey Gallo the last few seasons.

Under Iapoce's tutelage, former top prospect Jurickson Profar shed any notion of a "bust" label and emerged as a budding star at age 25, collecting 61 extra-base hits with a .793 OPS in 2018.

When the Cubs let Davis go last week, they provided no update on assistant hitting coach Andy Haines, who just finished his first season in that role and is expected to remain with the team for 2019. The same offseason Iapoce left for the Rangers, Haines took over as the Cubs' minor league hitting instructor.