With home-run swing in win over Phillies, Kyle Schwarber shows why Cubs will stick with leadoff guy

With home-run swing in win over Phillies, Kyle Schwarber shows why Cubs will stick with leadoff guy

The Cubs expect the impossible from Kyle Schwarber, envisioning him as their Babe Ruth when he played at Indiana University, watching his towering home runs as a rookie during the 2015 playoffs and witnessing a medical miracle, raking in the World Series some six months after major surgery on his left knee.

Never bet against Schwarber is part of The Cubs Way. Manager Joe Maddon wouldn’t overreact to a downturn this early in the season and pull the plug on a leadoff experiment with Schwarber hitting .196 on May 2.      

“He’s scary, man,” Maddon said, calling the shot during Tuesday’s pregame media session at Wrigley Field. “Listen, every time he comes up, I think something good’s going to happen. Every time. Every time.”

That faith paid off during an 8-3 victory over the Philadelphia Phillies, Schwarber hammering an 82-mph Jeremy Hellickson pitch into the right-field bleachers for the go-ahead, three-run homer in the fourth inning and giving a jolt to a team that views him as an emotional leader.

Schwarber hadn’t homered in two weeks, watching his OPS tumble 190 points to .652, leading to what-have-you-done-for-me-lately questions about the lineup.

“I feel like I’m right there,” Schwarber promised before the game. “I just got to stick with my process. I’m not going to be outcome-based where you just focus on a number. That’s why it’s called average. It’s an accumulation of something over the course of time. 

“It’s a game of millimeters. I feel like I’m putting some good swings on some balls and I’m just fouling them right back.

“I’m just not getting the results I want. Once I make that adjustment – get that millimeter where I’m missing the ball – it’s going to be a good feeling.”

The Cubs are now 14-12 and still in first place without clicking on all cylinders. The crowd chanted “JAV-Y! JAV-Y” on a night where Javier Baez went 4-for-4 and fell a double short of hitting for the cycle. Kris Bryant tripled and homered after a pregame ceremony where he posed with Hall of Famer Ryne Sandberg and the 2016 National League MVP award. Carl Edwards Jr., Hector Rondon and Wade Davis covered the final four innings and combined have now allowed one earned run through 35 appearances.

Two months removed from his 24th birthday, Schwarber is a legend who hadn’t played in a big-league game in May until Monday night, and hasn’t come close to completing a full season in The Show yet.

“We all kind of forget that,” winning pitcher Jon Lester said. “It’s been such a small sample size from him obviously being hurt last year and not playing a lot. I think that has a lot to do with where he’s at right now. You take a full year off of baseball. Obviously, we saw what he did in the World Series, and I think that’s just more kind of adrenaline. 

“Now with the grind of every day, he’s seeing how he’s getting pitched to. He has to make adjustments, and that’s the name of this game. You have the BATS (video) system, and every team has that, so they have a scouting report going in, what they’re going to try to do.

“He’ll be fine. We know the talent. We all know what he can do. It’s just a matter of getting going. We got a lot of guys like that right now. I feel like we’re kind of on the cusp of getting guys going, both on the pitching side and on the offensive side.”

Add this STATS Inc. bullet point to the resume: Schwarber (97 games) is now the fastest Cub to reach 20 career home runs since 1913. 

“That’s cool,” Schwarber said. “But I still want to focus on this year. I still want to focus on having good at-bats. I want to focus on winning. And I want to focus on getting back to where we want to be – which is being the last team standing at the end of the year.”

Cubs still trying to break through on extension talks with current players

Cubs still trying to break through on extension talks with current players

SAN DIEGO — While the rest of the baseball world is occupying their time with free agent signings and trades, the Cubs have been waiting for their number to be called.

They've been trying to nail down extensions with key players that are only a couple years away from free agency, though nothing appears imminent on that front. 

Kris Bryant, Javy Baez, Anthony Rizzo and Kyle Schwarber are all free agents after the 2021 season, leaving the Cubs two years to work out a deal or trade the player before losing them for nothing but a compensation pick. Willson Contreras is a free agent after 2022. Theo Epstein's front office reached a four-year, $55.5 million deal with Kyle Hendricks in spring training, extending his team control through the 2023 season.

The Cubs won't comment specifically on the current extension talks, but they'd ideally hope to wrap anything before spring training this year, so the players can focus solely on baseball by then.

"We always take the position of not commenting on extensions, but are we having those discussions? Yes," Jed Hoyer said Tuesday. "People focus so much on trades and free agent signings at these meetings, but all the agents are under the same roofs, also, and allows us to have those kinds of discussions. I'm not gonna specify who or what, but yeah certainly those conversations are ongoing."

Bryant has long been thought of as the toughest of the group to lock up long-term given that his agent, Scott Boras, typically advises clients to hit the open market and maximize their value. Boras reiterated Tuesday afternoon at the Winter Meetings he and Bryant are still open to extension talks with the Cubs.

Baez and Rizzo loom as the two most likely to extend their Wrigley Field stays, with the two emerging as the faces of the franchise in their own ways.

As the Cubs try to navigate an offseason where they're "serving two masters" (trying to compete in 2020-21 while also enhancing the long-term future of the franchise), a potential extension would check both boxes in a major way. If Hoyer and Theo Epstein knew Baez would be locking down shortstop and the middle of the lineup for the next six seasons, they could breathe a bit easier thinking about the big picture and long-term health of the franchise. 

At the same time, they can't operate as if anything is a certainty. Bryant could decide he likes the Cubs' offer and make Chicago his forever baseball home. Baez could conclude the opposite. 

It's what makes this particular offseason so tricky for the Cubs.

"We have to be able to have parallel tracks in our mind," Hoyer said. "We have to be able to do multiple things at once. It doesn't make it more difficult. We have a lot of really good players. We've had them for a long time. When we talk to these players about contracts, there's no player that we talk to that we haven't had a conversation with at some point before about a contract. 

"We've talked about these players for five years in some way, shape or form. When we sit down with these players, we're not covering a ton of new ground. We've already been over a lot of it. I think we're able to have parallel tracks."

Two MLB moves that changed the landscape of Kris Bryant's trade market

Two MLB moves that changed the landscape of Kris Bryant's trade market

Two reported transactions Tuesday may not have drawn much attention from Cubs fans, but both directly impact the North Siders.

First, The Athletic’s Fabian Ardaya reported the Angels are trading third baseman Zack Cozart to the Giants for cash and a player to be named later. Soon thereafter, free agent shortstop Didi Gregorius agreed to a one-year deal with the Phillies, as Joel Sherman of the New York Post reported.

From a Cubs perspective, the Angels' and Phillies' moves impact a potential Kris Bryant trade market. According to Ardaya, the Giants are picking up the remaining $12.67 million on Cozart’s deal. This clears payroll space for Los Angeles to make a run at a superstar free agent, like third basemen Anthony Rendon and Josh Donaldson.

The Phillies inquired with the Cubs regarding a potential Bryant trade, according to multiple reports. However, Bryant’s unresolved grievance case is a holdup in any trade talks, should the Cubs entertain offers. If he wins, he'll become a free agent next winter. If he loses, he'll remain under team control through 2021.

Gregorius will slot into shortstop for Philadelphia, while incumbent Jean Segura will move to second base, according to NBC Sports Philadelphia’s Jim Salisbury. The Phillies are less likely to pursue Bryant — should the Cubs shop him — than they were entering Tuesday. Things can change, but they have less of an infield need as they did on Monday.

On the other hand, the Angels and new manager Joe Maddon suddenly could be a candidate to pursue Bryant. Acquiring him would bring less certainty than Rendon or Donaldson, as Bryant is only under contract for two seasons more, max. Furthermore, acquiring Bryant will cost the Angels prospect capital, while adding Rendon and Donaldson will 'only' entail paying them handsomely as free agents.

In short, Philadelphia is less likely to pursue Bryant than they were entering Tuesday; the possibility of the Angels doing so is stronger than it was entering the day. The Angels haven't been directly connected to Bryant at this point, but that now could change.