Cubs

Cubs win clouded by uncertainty over Kyle Schwarber's injury

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Cubs win clouded by uncertainty over Kyle Schwarber's injury

PHOENIX — An ambulance cart drove Kyle Schwarber off Chase Field on Thursday night, giving the Cubs perhaps their first crisis in a season filled with great expectations.

Facedown in the dirt, Schwarber had waited for two Cubs trainers to reach him at the warning track after he collided with Dexter Fowler as they converged on a flyball in the left-center field gap.

Schwarber’s left leg crashed into Fowler in the second inning, and both outfielders tumbled to the ground while Arizona Diamondbacks leadoff guy Jean Segura sprinted for an inside-the-park home run.

That clouded a 14-6 win that showed this team’s blunt offensive force, and it’s too early to tell whether or not the Cubs will have to get by without Schwarber bashing in the middle of their lineup.

The Cubs framed it as Schwarber getting evaluated for a sprained left ankle, with initial X-rays coming back negative and an MRI scheduled for Friday, at which point the franchise will know more about one of its most valuable assets and if there is any damage to the knee.

“The ball was literally in no man’s land,” Schwarber said, standing on crutches at his locker. “We both thought that (the other guy) wasn’t going to get the ball. So you only call it if you know you can get it. We both went at it, and I stuck my glove up. I was pretty close. But then he dove for it, too.

“We were playing hard. I have no regrets about playing hard and getting hurt.”

[MORE CUBS: Relentless offense backs up John Lackey as Cubs remain undefeated]

Manager Joe Maddon said: “It had bad things written all over it. The guy hits the ball in the one spot that we can’t cover.”

After several anxious moments, a crowd of 24,656 gave Schwarber a round of applause as he slowly rose to his feet, his arms hanging over the two athletic trainers for support.

The Cubs loved Schwarber’s football mentality when they drafted the Indiana University catcher/outfielder fourth overall in 2014, overlooking the questions about his long-term defensive future and believing in his vicious left-handed swing.

“He’s not a guy that’s going to back down,” winning pitcher John Lackey said. “He’s going to keep going hard. You hate seeing that, because he’s such a good dude. Hopefully, it’s nothing too serious.

“As a pitcher, you appreciate the effort. But, man, you never want to see him getting hurt. That’s tough to watch.”

The against-the-grain decision to draft Schwarber and aggressively promote him through the minor-league system helped spark a team that benefited from remarkably good health and finished with 97 wins.

Schwarber, a second-team All-Ohio linebacker in high school, gave the lineup a different dimension as a hard-charging rookie, hitting 16 homers in 69 games and then blasting five more in the playoffs.

“I’m not going to be down in spirit,” Schwarber said. “I’m going to just wait until tomorrow and see what happens.”

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Schwarber watched the replay and realized how serious it looked. He said he felt tight and sore but tried to stay upbeat.

“I’m a big body to be running into,” Schwarber said. “(At first), I was just more worried about how Dexter was doing because I hit him pretty well.”

The Cubs might have the most talent on paper in the majors, enough depth to where Schwarber could become a personal catcher for Jason Hammel, learn from veterans Miguel Montero and David Ross behind the plate and sit against tough lefties.

Signing Fowler to a one-year, $13 million contract in late February looks like a prescient move, and there have been lingering questions about where Jorge Soler will fit in the outfield mix.

Javier Baez (left thumb contusion) would be eligible to come off the disabled list on Saturday if the Cubs want a potential super-utility guy. Kris Bryant can also play the outfield and open up third base for Tommy La Stella.

But at this point, all the Cubs can do is wait for the MRI results on Schwarber’s left leg.

Javier Baez and Kyle Schwarber select their Home Run Derby pitchers

Javier Baez and Kyle Schwarber select their Home Run Derby pitchers

The 2018 Home Run Derby starts Monday night at 7 p.m., and Cubs Javier Baez and Kyle Schwarber have picked who will be their pitchers.

Baez has chosen his brother Gadiel, while Schwarber selected Mike Sanicola, who played at the University of Miami and is a friend of Schwarber’s agent, Jason Romano.

Gadiel does have a baseball background in his back pocket. After playing baseball in high school, he played at Cowley College (JUCO), Tabor College (NAIA) and played in an independent league for two years.

It’ll be a first time experience for both Baez and Schwarber, who are the first Cubs to participate in the Home Run Derby since Anthony Rizzo and Kris Bryant did it back in 2015.

Could Baez or Schwarber be the home run king? Will just have to wait and see.

Javy Baez should be the frontrunner for NL MVP heading into the All-Star Break

Javy Baez should be the frontrunner for NL MVP heading into the All-Star Break

If the season ended today, Javy Baez may be your National League MVP.

Of course, the season isn't ending today, only the first half of the 2018 campaign is.

He flashed his skills again over the weekend — scoring the game-winning run Friday, posting a 5-RBI game Saturday and then drove in the Cubs' first run in their 7-4 victory Sunday to close out a sweep of the Padres.

Entering the All-Star Break, Baez should be the frontrunner for Most Valuable Player.

For starters, he's the best player on the best team in the league.

Thanks to a recent hot surge by the Cubs and an ugly weekend for the Brewers (who have lost 6 straight), Baez and Co. will go into the break with the best record in the NL. 

Baez, meanwhile, leads the Cubs in WAR and nearly every offensive category — OPS, slugging percentage, homers, RBI, runs scored, doubles, triples, total bases, stolen bases and hits.

And that's not even saying anything about his glovework at any position on the infield or dynamic baserunning.

He's on pace to become the first Cubs player to drive in 125 runs since Sammy Sosa in 2001.

Baez also is on track for a 30-30 season — something only Sosa accomplished in a Cubs uniform in 1993 and 1995. 

El Mago will enjoy his week in the Home Run Derby and as the NL's starting second baseman in the All-Star Game, but those shouldn't be the end of his accolades this year if he can find a way to keep this pace up in the second half.

What other NL candidate would be a better choice for the MVP right now?

Baez is tied for the league lead in RBI. Brewers first baseman Jesus Aguilar is just behind Baez with 70 RBI, but he also has 70 fewer at-bats than the Cubs star due to a platoon to begin the year. 

Eugenio Suarez and Scooter Gennett are also having great years, but the Reds are nowhere close to a playoff spot. 

Nolan Arenado, Freddie Freeman and Paul Goldschmidt are also having very good seasons on teams that are currently in the playoff hunt, but how do you deny the best player on the league's best team?

After all, where would the Cubs be without Baez this season? 

Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo have battled through injuries and bouts of ineffectiveness, the pitching staff has had all kinds of consistency/health woes and Willson Contreras has yet to find his power stroke at the plate.

At the very least, "El Mago" has been the most important player on the North Side of Chicago during the first 3.5 months of 2018.