Cubs

Cubs having fun watching 'Fast Hulk' Schwarber do his thing

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Cubs having fun watching 'Fast Hulk' Schwarber do his thing

The "Fast Hulk" has taken the Cubs lineup to a whole new level.

Addison Russell's nickname for Kyle Schwarber is oddly fitting, especially the way Schwarber has been mashing at the plate and chasing fly balls down in his new position in left field.

"He runs or moves better than he looks," Cubs manager Joe Maddon said. "He doesn't have the speedster look to him, but he moves well."

The Cubs have won 10 of their last 11 games, averaging 4.73 runs per contest in that stretch.

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Schwarber has started every game but one in that span, even forcing Maddon to move Starlin Castro to the bench to keep Schwarber's bat in the lineup every day in left field.

"He's been huge," pitcher Kyle Hendricks said. "The whole lineup has kinda taken over the mentality of how he goes about it when he's up there - hunting the heater, hunting a good pitch in the middle of the zone and putting a good swing on it.

"Guy's been aggressive at the plate and you've seen the results. It's pretty fun to watch."

Schwarber has posted a .341 average and 1.033 OPS throughout his first 28 games in the big leagues, scoring 23 runs and driving in 21 more.

Anthony Rizzo marveled at how Schwarber has done all this while getting a crash course on how to catch at the major-league level as well as switching to a position (left field) that he played just 36 games at in the minor leagues before his call-up.

Kris Bryant just thinks Schwarber is a freak.

"He brings a presence and I think that's more important than any home run or double that you can hit on the field," Bryant said. "Having his name in the lineup is extremely important to us.

"He's obviously been a key role in our success recently, but I wasn't expecting anything else from him. The guy is a freak of nature. It's been fun watching him play."

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Maddon has loved how "eager" Schwarber has been to absorb information and credits the rookie's thirst for learning as part of what sets him apart from other first-year players.

One of Maddon's catchphrases (he has a lot) since taking over as Cubs manager has been, "Don't let the pressure exceed the pleasure," and he feels Schwarber "really gets that" mindset.

"A very confident young major-league player," Maddon said. "Very confident. People might attach 'cocky' to that, but I think he handles it well. I think he thinks he's good at the plate and I think people that watch him feel the same way.

"He's going to meet up with some difficulty at some point like everybody does. He'll work through it. He's got an incredible work ethic."

It's been only 14 months or so since the Cubs made Schwarber the fourth overall pick in the MLB Draft. When he was selected, baseball analysts questioned if he'd be able to stick at catcher, but everybody knew the bat would play eventually.

Though, nobody expected Schwarber's bat to play at this level this early.

"Yes and no [there was a sense of surprise on Schwarber's success]," Cubs president of baseball operations Theo Epstein said. "Yes in the sense that I don't think it's ever appropriate to expect a completely seamless transition because big-league pitching is so hard to hit, especially for young players these days.

"But no on the other hand, in that he's such a mature, polished, intelligent, gifted hitter, we felt like he could handle some of the best pitching in the world.

"I think maybe the surprise is just over a year into his professional career, he's catching victories in the middle of a pennant race at the big-league level. That's a surprise. A testament to his hard work, how quickly that's come and the coaching he's gotten both at the minor-league level and up here."

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Jon Lester, who's seen just about everything during his decade in the big leagues, said he's not surprised at Schwarber's success now that he's gotten to know the 22-year-old slugger.

"He's a baseball player," Lester said. "There aren't many guys like that. ... He understands the game, he understands the situation and he doesn't let the situation get too much of him.

"He goes out there and plays the game, whether he's catching or playing left field or if you stuck him at first base, I'm sure he'd do the same thing.

"It's been impressive to see and it's been impressive to see the adjustments he's made offensively and defensively behind the plate. He's just a baseball player."

Matt Carpenter giving the Cubs Daniel Murphy PTSD

Matt Carpenter giving the Cubs Daniel Murphy PTSD

Say the name Daniel Murphy around Cubs fans (who have been around since before they won the 2016 World Series) and expect a dirty look or shade of some sort.

What Murphy did to the Cubs in the 2015 National League Championship Series still haunts the fanbase, even if they did end the championship drought the following fall.

Now, the Cubs are seeing it again and their PTSD is in overdrive.

St. Louis infielder Matt Carpenter has been on an unreal tear of late, setting Cardinals franchise records in the process.

Throughout this five-game series at Wrigley Field, Carpenter is 9-for-16 with 6 homers, 10 RBI, 8 runs scored, 3 walks, a pair of doubles and a bunt single to lead off Sunday's game against the Cubs' shift.

"We're seeing this guy probably at his best moment in his life as a baseball player," Joe Maddon said. "My god. We saw it a couple years ago in the playoffs. We're seeing it all over again.

"Similar kind of a swing, not missing anything. It's pretty impressive."

In that 2015 NLCS, Murphy — then with the New York Mets — homered in all 4 games while hitting .529 with a 1.850 OPS, driving in 6 and scoring 6. 

To put that in perspective: The Cubs scored only 8 runs as a team in the 4 games.

Maddon and the Cubs don't know what to do to get Carpenter out right now, so they've resorted to walking him whenever possible, like in the second inning Sunday when they just dealt out a free pass to the Cardinals infielder with runners on second and third and two outs.

They also tried out a funky shift in the seventh inning Sunday, with Kris Bryant as a fourth outfielder in left-center, Addison Russell as the only defender on the left side of the infield and Javy Baez playing on the grass in shallow right field. It worked, as Carpenter grounded it to Baez for a routine out.

Beyond that, all the Cubs can do is hope time eventually wears Carpenter down. After all, nobody can stay this hot forever.

Even though Carpenter and the Cardinals are leaving town after Sunday's game, these two team square off against each other again next weekend for the final series in St. Louis.

"For them, it's a blast to watch," Maddon said. "Give the guy credit. What he's working right now is unique. The last time I saw it was Daniel Murphy. 

"Before that, I think, was Barry Bonds in the World Series in 2002. Playoffs with Murphy a couple years ago, where the guy — every pitch that is thrown — he's on time, he's on balance with a forceful swing that looks like the ball can go out of the ballpark every time. Bonds, Murphy and now him."

That's some serious company to be in.

So what's led to this insane stretch from Carpenter?

Maybe it's the salsa.

When told about that theory, Maddon laughed and said:

"Listen, that makes total sense to me. Can he send a jar over here, please?"

With trade deadline approaching, Cubs know they can't rely on Yu Darvish

With trade deadline approaching, Cubs know they can't rely on Yu Darvish

Sunday began like most days have around the Cubs recently: No update on Yu Darvish.

But while the skies opened up over Wrigley Field about 90 minutes before game time, Cubs president of baseball operations Theo Epstein sat in the third-base dugout and spoke candidly about where Darvish is at currently and how much the Cubs can count on him during the stretch run.

Darvish threw from flat ground — 135 feet — Sunday morning and Epstein said it was "his best day in a long time. He threw really well and felt really good."

Still, there is no specific timetable for when Darvish may be back on the Wrigley Field mound, facing live hitters in a game that matters.

The next step for Darvish will be throwing off a mound, but the Cubs aren't yet talking about where or when the 31-year-old pitcher will go on a rehab assignment.

With the non-waiver trade deadline approaching in just over a week, Epstein and the Cubs know they can't simply project Darvish into the September — or October — rotation.

"I think just making an educated guess," Epstein said. "You can't be overly reliant on somebody who hasn't been able to stay healthy and perform this year. At the same time, you track the rehab closely because you know you have to try to anticipate what he might be able to give you.

"...If you put yourself in a position where you're overly reliant on something that hasn't been dependable up to this point and then it doesn't come through, it's probably more on you than on the fates."

Darvish has accounted for only 40 innings for the Cubs this season and hasn't pitched since May 20. He made it through 5 innings just three times in his eight starts on the campaign.

This is the second DL stint for Darvish this season. He had a bout of the flu in early May and then initially went back on the shelf over Memorial Day Weekend with a triceps issue. The triceps strain has morphed into an elbow impingement after Darvish made a rehab start with Class-A South Bend and he received a cortisone shot in the elbow in late June.

Mike Montgomery has taken Darvish's place in the Cubs rotation and the southpaw has had a lot of success in the role with a 3.02 ERA and 1.18 WHIP in 10 starts, averaging nearly 6 innings a start.

Of course, Montgomery's insertion into the rotation has left a bit of a hole in the bullpen as the Cubs have been without their top long man and down one reliable left-handed option.

The long relief role was filled last week with the trade for Jesse Chavez, but the Cubs could probably still use another lefty in the bullpen with Justin Wilson's control issues, Brian Duensing's struggles and Randy Rosario's relative inexperience and worrisome peripheral numbers.

Whether the Cubs will acquire another starting pitcher before the trade deadline is unknown. Epstein's front office knows they need more pitching and understands it's much harder to acquire arms after July 31 than before.

But with Montgomery already filling the last spot in the rotation, Drew Smyly on the comeback trail from Tommy John surgery while being stretched out as a starter and now Chavez in town, the Cubs have some veteran starting pitching depth beyond the inexperienced Luke Farrell and Duane Underwood Jr.

The starting pitching market is relatively thin at the moment in terms of arms a team like the Cubs could acquire and plug into a potential playoff rotation. And that's saying nothing of the pieces it would require to pull off such a move, as the Cubs don't have the elite-level prospects they once had to acquire Aroldis Chapman and Jose Quintana the past two summers.

But with Darvish's status unknown and Tyler Chatwood currently boasting more walks than strikeouts through 18 starts, the Cubs aren't exactly sleeping easy at night trying to project their October rotation.

Epstein acknowledged the front office is focused primarily on pitching ahead of the deadline and though it may be tougher to make those big-name deals compared to years past, that doesn't necessarily take the Cubs out of the running on the impact guys.

Still, don't expect Jacob deGrom or Chris Archer to be walking through that door anytime soon.

"I think we're in a more difficult position to do so. I don't think it's impossible," Epstein said. "But certain years lend themselves to being able to participate in more hands. Other years, because of the way your prospects are performing or because of your desire to keep growing the farm system or just the nature of what's available and how much you need, you have to be more selective.

"I think we're hopefully pursuing a lot of different things, but I think in terms of what's realistic for us, we have to be a little bit more targeted, more selective and a little more opportunistic. And that's fine. Sometimes those end up being the best deals. The Chavez deal is an example of that. He's probably not a name anyone had mentioned at all. We think he's a really good fit for us.

"So that's [an example of] the kind of stuff we're looking to do. While participating in everything else, but knowing that most of the stuff we talked about we won't be able to get done."