Cubs

How will the Cubs respond to the loss of Kyle Schwarber?

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How will the Cubs respond to the loss of Kyle Schwarber?

PHOENIX – Life after Kyle Schwarber began with a 3-2 walk-off loss to the Arizona Diamondbacks on Friday at Chase Field, the Cubs bullpen unraveling late and manager Joe Maddon getting strategy questions during his postgame media session.

“You can’t be an oil painting every night,” Maddon said.

Schwarber personified the next-man-up philosophy last summer, giving the Cubs a shot of adrenaline that carried them to 97 wins and through two playoff rounds.

The legend grew as Schwarber’s left-handed power smashed balls into the Allegheny River, on top of a Wrigley Field video board and off a car windshield in the parking lot at the team’s spring-training complex.

During his first full season in professional baseball, Schwarber became a billboard for the youth movement on the North Side, all the unlimited possibilities ahead for a team that many preseason experts picked to win the World Series.

All that made the pregame diagnosis – season-ending knee surgery to repair Schwarber’s torn ACL and LCL – so disappointing inside the visiting clubhouse.

“He’s going to be missed,” catcher David Ross. “There’s no doubt about it. There’s no sugarcoating it. We love the guy. It’s a sad day here in our locker room.”

[MORE: Sickening feeling for Cubs after Kyle Schwarber's season-ending injury]

On a smaller scale, the Cubs missed the chance to go 4-0 for the first time since 1995, wasting Jason Hammel’s six innings of one-run ball. Trevor Cahill gave up Yasmany Tomas’ game-winning line-drive single into left field with two outs in the ninth, but the pivot point came with two outs in the eighth.

The Cubs had a one-run lead, lefty Travis Wood warming up in the bullpen and setup guy Pedro Strop on the mound with a runner on third. MVP-level performer Paul Goldschmidt hit a 2-2, 95-mph fastball back up the middle to tie the game.

“We were not trying to throw that pitch on that count,” Maddon said. “We had different strategies set up. It didn’t play out, and that’s the way it happens sometimes. He easily could have struck him out, hit a groundball at somebody, popped him up. The guy on deck’s a pretty good hitter, too (David Peralta).”

What about the idea of simply walking Goldschmidt?

“Stropy’s pretty good,” Maddon said. “He made (Goldschmidt) look pretty bad yesterday. I kind of like the matchup with the breaking ball. We just didn’t get to it and he got a hit.

“I’m good with everything. I felt really strongly about Stropy right there and we got a pitch in the wrong spot. The guy’s a good hitter.”

[SHOP: Gear up, Cubs fans!]

So is Schwarber. This group is still positioned to withstand that loss, even while missing a feared hitter in the middle of their lineup and the flexibility of having a third catcher who can also play the outfield. Theo Epstein’s front office gave a three-time Manager of the Year a roster stocked with blue-chip talent and mix-and-match pieces.

This is Jorge Soler’s time to show he belongs in left field as an everyday player. Ben Zobrist made a name for himself as the game’s preeminent super-utility guy, and Maddon said there could be times he moves from second base to the outfield. The same goes for All-Star third baseman Kris Bryant, who can handle all three spots in the outfield.

Javier Baez (left thumb contusion) may or may not be ready at some point during next week’s opening homestand at Wrigley Field. And where would the Cubs be if they hadn’t kept the door open for Dexter Fowler, signing him to a one-year, $13 million deal in late February?

“We’re going to have the ability to put a lineup full of really talented position players on the field every night,” Epstein said. “But Kyle is unique in a lot of ways. To begin with, he’s a big part of our identity, on the field and off the field. The unique skill set on the field – and then what he stands for and how he carries himself off the field.

“No one’s going to replace Kyle Schwarber. But we have a lot of talented players that now need to step up to the forefront.”

The Cubs understood Schwarber’s all-out style could lead to the crash that dropped him to the warning track on Thursday night, running into Fowler while trying to chase down a flyball headed toward the left-center field gap.

“He seemed ready for this year – to break out and become just a bigger star in the game,” first baseman Anthony Rizzo said. “Everything happens for a reason. Why did this happen to him at this moment? What’s going on here? Who knows? But he’s going to attack it head on and do the best he can to come back next year stronger.”

Epstein and chairman Tom Ricketts have both said the money will be there at the trade deadline if – or when – the roster needs midseason upgrades. The Cubs also have what Baseball Prospectus ranked as the 12th-best farm system in baseball and a surplus of position-player prospects with so many hitters already established in Chicago.

“It’s part of the game,” Rizzo said. “No matter who it is, you got to be ready to keep going. At the end of the day, the sun is still going to rise.

“We got to go out there and do a job, no matter who goes down. We all understand that. This will be something that I think brings all of us closer.”

Glanville: Fall to Spring - A player’s offseason changes meaning with each changing season

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USA TODAY

Glanville: Fall to Spring - A player’s offseason changes meaning with each changing season

A few weeks after the we (the Cubs) were eliminated from the 2003 playoffs, I got a phone call from my college professor. Since it was officially the off-season, I was in the early stages of a break from following a pocket schedule to tell me where to be every day for nearly eight months.

But this was a man I could not refuse. I chose my college major to go into his field of transportation engineering and he was calling because he needed a teaching assistant to accompany him on his trip to South Africa.

One minute I could barely move off of my couch in my Chicago apartment after losing Game 7 against the Marlins. The next minute, I would be standing within miles of the Southern most point in Africa at the Cape of Good Hope. Why not? I needed the distraction so I agreed to go.

The offseason is its own transition. Leaving the regimen of routine, of batting practice and bus times, to an open ended world that you have to re-learn again. When I finished my first full major league season in 1997, I lived in Streeterville at the Navy Pier Apartments.

That offseason, I decided to stay an extra month in Chicago only to wake up panicked for the first two weeks because I thought I was missing stretch time for a home day game. A major league schedule becomes etched in your DNA after a while.

It is also a time that you get to reflect. The regular season does not give you a moment to really get perspective on what was just accomplished, what it all means, what you would change. I always joked about the T-shirt I wanted to a sell that listed all of the things a major league player figures out during the off-season. From the perfect swing to the ex-girlfriend you need to un-break-up with next week.

It all becomes so clear when a 96 MPH fastball isn’t coming at you.

For years, I would arrange a training program to follow, but I quickly learned that I had to mix it up. There was only so much repetition I could stand in the off-season. So some years, I moved to the site of spring training and worked out early with the staff, other years I found a spot at home where I grew up or wherever I played during the season, to train.

I was single when I played, but now with a family, I have a better understanding of the challenges my teammates would express as they were re-engaging as a daily father again after this long absentee existence.

To keep it fresh and spicy, when I got older in the game, I enrolled in a dance studio and took a winter of dance lessons. Salsa, Foxtrot, Rumba, you name it. On Thursdays we had to dance for an hour straight, changing partners in the room every song change. Dancing with the Stars had nothing on me.

Of course, not every offseason is fun and games. There were years when I wasn’t sure I would have a job the next year, or I was in the throes of a trade rumor. In 1997, I was traded from the Cubs to the Phillies two days before Christmas. In 2002, my father passed away on the last game of the season, leading the offseason to be a time of mourning.

By my final season in 2005, I thought I was officially on my couch forever. I was going to fade away into oblivion like many players do. No fanfare, the phone just would stop ringing and I would just let the silence wash over me. The Yankees had called earlier in that off-season, acting like they were doing me a favor which I turned down, then they called back later with a more open tone, seeing me as a potential key piece in their outfield with Bernie Williams slowing down quite a bit at that point.

I did get off that couch for that call, only to get released the last week of camp, so I was back on the couch, with a fiancé and some extra salt in the wounds after that final meeting with Brian Cashman and Joe Torre, who boxed me into the coaches office to tell me I was released. Released? Come on. Never had that happen before.

The Cubs players will go through all of this if they have the good fortune of playing a long time. The wave of uncertainty, the meaning of age in this game spares no one. Each offseason is a time to reset, a period where you get away, seemingly adrift from the game, then as spring gets closer, the shoreline comes up in the horizon once again, magnetically drawing you to its shores for another season.

Amazingly, you don’t always know your age and what it has done to your body. 34 can’t be that old, right? I can still run, or throw 95. Then those 23-year-olds in camp are the wake up call, or maybe you are that 23-year-old and can’t believe your locker is next to Ryne Sandberg’s.

Then you blink, and you are advising Jimmy Rollins about etiquette and realize you have become that guy, the seasoned vet, preaching about locker room respect.

For the 2018 Cubs, they fell short of their goal to repeat their 2016 magic. Failed to meet their singular destination that meant success over all else. Yet, those who come back for 2019, will not be the same player, the same person, that left the locker room at the close this season. They will have grown, changed, aged, wizened up, rehabbed, hardened. All of which means that new perspective is the inevitable part of this time off, whether you like it or not.

Baseball is a game that has this unique dynamic. The highest intensity rhythm of any sport. Every day you are tested. You are pushed to the brink by sheer attrition. According to my teammate Ed Smith, who was playing third base at the time when Michael Jordan reached third, Jordan, after playing well over 100 games in a row, said to him “Man, I have never been this tired in my entire life.”

The grind.

Then it stops on a dime. Season over. Only on baseball’s terms.

But you may be granted another spring. Another crack at it. Until one day, the baseball winter never ends and its time for you to plant your own spring.

Remember that guy? Former Cubs shortstop Ricky Gutiérrez

Remember that guy? Former Cubs shortstop Ricky Gutiérrez

Ricky Gutiérrez played in the Majors from 1993-2004. He played shortstop for the Cubs from 2000-01 and later signed with them again in June 2004. 

However, Gutiérrez never got back to the Majors with the Cubs, who sent him to the Red Sox the following month. His final Major League game was with the Red Sox on Oct. 3, 2004, the final game of the 2004 regular season; he didn’t play in the 2004 postseason. Gutiérrez was subsequently signed and released by a few other teams, including the White Sox in 2005.

Gutiérrez holds the distinction of being the first Cubs player to hit a regular season grand slam against the White Sox (July 12, 2001). In his two seasons with the Cubs, he tied for the Major League lead in sacrifice bunts both years (16 in 2000, 17 in 2001) which was odd since he had a grand total of 18 sacrifice bunts in his 847 career games NOT in a Cubs uniform. He also had uncharacteristic power with the Cubs:  21 home runs for Chicago in 272 games, 17 home runs with everyone else (847 games).

What Cubs fans probably remember most is what Gutiérrez did against them. On May 6, 1998 he had the lone hit (many dispute it should have been ruled an error) for the Astros off Kerry Wood in Wood’s 20-strikeout masterpiece at Wrigley Field (Gutiérrez was responsible for two of the strikeouts). 

Later that season, on June 26, the number 20 and Gutiérrez were again connected when he had a 20-pitch battle against Bartolo Colón, which ended in a strikeout. It remained the last plate appearance in the Majors of at least 20 pitches until Brandon Belt flew out on the 21st pitch of an at-bat against the Angels' Jaime Barria on April 22, 2018.

Gutiérrez’s nephew, James Jones, played 14 seasons in the NBA for the Pacers, Suns, Trail Blazers, Heat and Cavaliers.