Cubs

Cubs have big plans for Kyle Schwarber

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Cubs have big plans for Kyle Schwarber

CINCINNATI – The future is now for Kyle Schwarber. It’s getting harder and harder to see him ever going back to Triple-A Iowa, how the Cubs could afford to take his bat out of the lineup.

Manager Joe Maddon is already planning to use Schwarber in the outfield at some point, which wouldn’t mean the end of this catching experiment. The Cubs simply need Schwarber’s offensive production.

If Schwarber keeps hitting bombs – and shows enough improvement behind the plate – who cares if the defensive metrics don’t look so great right away on Baseball Prospectus?   

It could open up the possibility of moving Miguel Montero – who has a sprained left thumb and two years and $28 million left on his contract – to create some payroll flexibility and make a splash this winter.

[MORE: Bottom line - Cubs need more pitching by trade deadline]

It’s not crazy to wonder if Schwarber will be your Opening Day catcher in 2016.

“He’s definitely going to answer a lot of those questions now for next season,” Maddon said. “It definitely permits you then to plan. How do you plan? How do you acquire? How do you do – whatever – going into the next year? He’s off to a great start.”

Schwarber sat on the edge of his seat in between games of Wednesday’s day/night doubleheader at Great American Ball Park, his gray pants covered in dirt and a bottle of water in his hand.

The day after hitting the game-tying and game-winning home runs, Schwarber went 2-for-3 with a walk and drove in his team’s only run during a 9-1 loss to the Cincinnati Reds.

The Cubs catcher of the present/future huddled with David Ross and Mike Borzello. Ross is 38 years old and seen as a potential manager as soon as he retires. Borzello is the catching instructor who gets behind-the-scenes credit for doing a lot of the heavy lifting when it comes to breaking down opponents.

[MORE CUBS: Kyle Schwarber is the big bat the Cubs absolutely need]

That clubhouse scene – Schwarber listening, paying attention and laughing with the guys – illustrated why the Cubs think he can be a long-term answer.

“He’s learning on the job at the highest level,” pitcher Jason Hammel said, “(without) much time in the minor leagues to really figure out how it works.

“It’s fun to work with a guy like that who really wants to get better. And you can see that. He’s all ears right now. He’s going to be good.”

Schwarber won’t always pass the eye test – or automatically get the benefit of the doubt – but Hammel quickly took the blame for one obvious miscommunication on Tuesday night. Schwarber called for a slider while Hammel wound up throwing a fastball.

“He and I were on the same page,” Hammel said. “When I shook, he went to what I wanted. That’s pretty good – to know what my Number 2 is behind my Number 1. It was pretty impressive that I didn’t really lose any rhythm. I actually crossed him up with one of the two pitches I threw to the backstop.

“I screwed up the signs (and) I felt bad, because he had been really good up until that point. And I think he felt like it was his fault, and it wasn’t – it was me.”

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Maddon already had a picture in mind before he left the Tampa Bay Rays last October and signed that five-year, $25 million contract to come to Chicago. The Rays had discussed drafting Schwarber with their first-round pick in the 2014 draft.

The Cubs grabbed Schwarber at No. 4 overall – or 16 spots ahead of the Rays – and there was a perception Theo Epstein’s front office reached for the Indiana University catcher/outfielder.   

“I know the Rays wanted to draft him badly,” Maddon said. “I heard about him. I heard about what kind of a player, what kind of a hitter he was coming out of college. I just know that his name was prominent.

“The catching side of it with Schwarbs (became): When was that going to happen? I’ve been involved with two catchers in the recent past (who were in the) same boat: Johnny Jaso and Stephen Vogt, both pretty good offensive players.

“How well were they going to catch? Vogt made the All-Star team. And if Jaso had not been hurt a couple times, who knows where he would be at right now? There’s a lot of similarities among those three guys, and they’re all left-handed (hitters).”

Schwarber is hitting .429 (18-for-42) with three homers, 11 RBI and a 1.205 OPS through his first 12 games in The Show.

“Be careful what you wish for with Schwarbs,” Maddon said. “If we just wear his butt out by the end of the season, that bat will go away, I promise you.

“Let him play at his own pace. We’re going to work with him in the outfield, absolutely. I have ideas (and) we’ll just see how it goes. For right now, everybody’s euphoric about the game last night. We all are. And it was wonderful. But he’s a young man (who’s) still learning his craft.

“That’s what’s going to benefit us in September/October – not wearing people out right now, mentally and physically.”

Schwarber doesn’t want to look too far ahead, but he wants to stay at catcher and knows he can always play the outfield.

“Whatever happens, happens,” Schwarber said. “I’m going to keep working my butt off to get better defensively, and keep getting better offensively, too. My goal is to stay up here, so whatever it takes, I’m going to try to do it.”

Where Cubs stand in updated All-Star voting

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USA TODAY

Where Cubs stand in updated All-Star voting

The Cubs were swept in four games at the hands of the Reds. The news on the All-Star ballot hasn’t been kind as well.

Starting positions for Cubs players at the 2018 MLB All-Star game is looking a little bleak. But catcher Willson Contreras is still in striking distance.

MLB updated its third round of All-Star ballots for the National League. Dating back a week ago, Contreras was behind Giants catcher Buster Posey by 90,000 votes. As of now, that number is quite similar with Posey up 92,000 votes.

For other Cubs players, the margins have continued to grow in the wrong direction as the week has gone along.

The race for first base is a clear cut path for Braves first basemen Freddie Freeman. With nearly 2,200,000 votes to Freeman’s name, he’s ahead of Anthony Rizzo by nearly 1.3 million votes. At this point last week, Rizzo was down 870,000 votes.

The race for second base is a bit closer. Javier Baez has complied 1,186,243 votes, but he still trails Braves’ Ozzie Albies by 222,000 votes.

But Baez shouldn’t be too comfortable. Reds second basemen Scooter Gennett is just 19,000 votes behind him. Gennett could leap frog Baez, with still 10 days left to vote.

If Baez can get his name ahead of Albies, he’d become the second Cub to start at second base in three years, when Ben Zobrist started in 2016.

Kris Bryant, who has struggled this year offensively, is still struggling in the Midsummer Classic standings. Rockies third basemen Nolan Arenado leads Bryant by 646,400 votes, compared to 447,000 votes last week.

Rounding out the infield with Addison Russell at shortstop, he still sits in third place, trailing Braves shortstop Dansby Swanson and Giants Brandon Crawford.

In the outfield, it is more of the same for Jason Heyward, Kyle Schwarber, and Ben Zobrist. Heyward sits in seventh place with 750,688 votes. Schwarber in eighth has 706,374 votes, and Zobrist has 694,377 votes in ninth.

Even though the Cubs probably won’t see multiple starters on the field this time around, it doesn’t mean they won’t have a chance to be selected as reserves.

Cub faithful still has time to get their players to the All-Star game. Voting ends July 5 at 11 p.m. CT.

Summer of Sammy: Sosa's 32nd homer in 1998

Summer of Sammy: Sosa's 32nd homer in 1998

It's the 20th anniversary of the Summer of Sammy, when Sosa and Mark McGwire went toe-to-toe in one of the most exciting seasons in American sports history chasing after Roger Maris' home run record. All year, we're going to go homer-by-homer on Sosa's 66 longballs, with highlights and info about each. Enjoy.

Sosa victimized the Tigers pitching staff again on the next night, taking Brian Moehler deep in the 7th inning for a 400-foot solo blast.

The homer tied the game at 3, but the Cubs blew the lead in the bottom of the 7th when the Terrys (Adams and Mulholland) gave up 3 runs. The Cubs wound up losing 6-4.

The Cubs were putting together a really nice season in 1998 that ended with a trip to October. They entered the series with the Tigers with a 42-34 record, yet lost both games to a Detroit team that entered the series with a 28-45 record. The Tigers finished the season 65-94; the Cubs finished 90-73.

Fun fact: Luis Gonzalez was the Tigers left fielder and No. 5 hitter for both games of the series. He spent part of the 1995 season and all of '96 on Chicago's North Side. 1998 was his only year in Detroit before he moved on to Arizona, where he hit 57 homers in 2001 and helped the Diamondbacks to a World Series championship with that famous broken-bat single in Game 7.

Fun fact  No. 2: Remember Pedro Valdes? He only had a cup of coffee with the Cubs (9 games in 1996 and 14 in '98), but started in left field on June 25, 1998. He walked and went 0-for-1 before being removed from the game for a pinch-hitter (Jose Hernandez).