Cubs

Joe Maddon thinks Kyle Schwarber can help Cubs this year

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Joe Maddon thinks Kyle Schwarber can help Cubs this year

PHOENIX – Joe Maddon didn’t hesitate when asked if Kyle Schwarber can help the Cubs this season.

It’s been less than a calendar year since the Cubs drafted the Indiana University catcher/outfielder with the No. 4 overall pick, but Schwarber is killing it at Double-A Tennessee after dominating three different levels last season.

“Yeah,” Maddon said three times. “He’s a very, very mature at-bat, and he’s doing better behind the plate, too, from what I understand.

“You ask him, he’ll tell you he can. And that’s a big part of it, too. He’s really confident.”

This came up during the manager’s pregame media session on Sunday at Chase Field, seeing how the Cubs are positioned for the future and looking ahead to a six-game homestand against the Washington Nationals and their dominant rotation and the Kansas City Royals and their lockdown bullpen.

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At a time when seemingly every new advancement favors pitching and defense, and 97-mph relievers are standard items, Theo Epstein’s front office keeps collecting big bats, trying to build an overwhelming lineup for Wrigley Field.

Schwarber is getting on base 43 percent of the time with Tennessee, generating 10 homers and 26 RBI with a 1.030 OPS through 39 games.

“He’s definitely, definitely got the hitting chip,” Maddon said. “Every time I look up at the scoreboard at home, it’s like: Schwarber went 3-for-5 with a home run and three RBIs. Even if it’s 1-for-5, it’s like a game-winning RBI.”

At the age of 22, Schwarber is older than Addison Russell and only 14 months younger than Kris Bryant, and the Cubs have already fast-tracked those infielders into everyday players.

Schwarber grew up outside Cincinnati and could have played Division I football as an All-Ohio linebacker coming out of Middletown High School. Cubs officials love his energy and intensity and hope his athleticism and enthusiasm will allow him to stay behind the plate.

“That’s a work in progress as a catcher, but he’s getting better,” Maddon said.

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At the very least, Schwarber appears in line for a promotion to Triple-A Iowa this summer and a potential September call-up.

“It’s possible,” Maddon said. “Anything’s possible.”

A reporter asked: How about Schwarber being a left-handed bat off your bench in the playoffs?

“I’ll take it,” Maddon said with a smile.

Nationals fans sent Kyle Schwarber from hero to villain in monumentally entertaining Home Run Derby

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USA TODAY

Nationals fans sent Kyle Schwarber from hero to villain in monumentally entertaining Home Run Derby

WASHINGTON, D.C. — How could someone like Kyle Schwarber play the villain?

The fan favorite who’s always quick with a smile — or an Uncle Sam costume on the Fourth of July — Schwarber doesn’t fit the mold of a loathsome target of boos. But he made quite the heel turn in the minds of Washington Nationals fans Monday night, and of course he knew it was coming.

Schwarber went from getting cheered by the legions in attendance at the Home Run Derby to getting booed when he took on, and eventually lost to, hometown hero Bryce Harper in the final round.

“I was down in the tunnel saying, ‘If we get to the finals, Harp, they’re all going to be against me. I think they’re all going to be against me,’” Schwarber said Monday night. “And then I went out there and got booed after they all got pumped up for me. That’s just the beauty of it, and I was happy for Bryce that he won it in front of the home crowd.”

Harper delivered an incredibly memorable baseball moment Monday night, catching up to Schwarber’s 18 home runs with a ridiculous display of repetitive power to win a Home Run Derby for the ages. The format of this event, revamped a couple years ago, made for a dramatic and hugely entertaining evening. Harper smacked nine homers over the final 47 seconds of the final round to tie Schwarber, then bested him in bonus time. Unsurprisingly, the home crowd was going ballistic for their boy.

But earlier in the night, it was Schwarber getting all the cheers, when he made his own last-second comeback to beat Philadelphia Phillies slugger Rhys Hoskins in the second round. Schwarber was pumping up the crowd, pumping his fists and screaming while putting on a show of his own to catch and pass Hoskins' 20 home runs and advance to the finals.

How quickly the locals forgot.

By the finals — during which Schwarber looked understandably exhausted — the crowd had turned on him, trying to get every advantage for Harper.

“As soon as I got done with that round, I told myself that he had it,” Schwarber said. “I knew that he had the home crowd behind him, and I knew that he was a very prolific power hitter with a great swing. For him to come in and do that and started getting down to the wire, all of a sudden he started racking them up one at a time. You kind of just accept your fate there.”

Perhaps the night could’ve ended differently for Schwarber had he listened more closely to the advice of his teammates, Javy Baez and Willson Contreras, who were quick with Gatorade, a towel and words of encouragement on Monday. Baez hit 16 home runs in his own first-round appearance, though Los Angeles Dodgers slugger Max Muncy knocked him out.

“I was just telling him to slow down,” Baez said. “He was kind of rushing a little bit, that’s why he was jumping to the ball.”

“They were actually giving me really good advice that I didn’t take because I was really dumb-headed,” Schwarber said. “‘Make sure you take some pitches and get the pitch that you want.’ At the end, I felt like I was swinging at everything. I was just running out of gas. I felt like I had to put up as many swings just to try to put a couple out.”

Schwarber was totally content with losing out to Harper’s home-field advantage. Though as his homers flew out deep into the right-field seats Monday night, you couldn’t help but wonder what it would be like if Schwarber was instead taking aim at Sheffield Avenue and getting his own home-field advantage from Cubs fans.

The North Side hasn’t played host to the All-Star Game since 1990, so perhaps Schwarber will still be slugging the next time the Friendly Confines are the site of the Home Run Derby.

“That’d be really cool one day if the All-Star Game’s at Wrigley,” Schwarber said, “and to participate in the Derby, that’d be fun.”

Summer of Sammy: Sosa's 36th homer in 1998

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AP

Summer of Sammy: Sosa's 36th 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 went down and golfed a pitch out for his 36th homer on July 17, 1998. He smacked Marlins reliever Kirt Ojala's (who??) pitch just over the wall in center field at Pro Player Stadium for a 2-run shot that closed out the Cubs' scoring in a 6-1 victory.

 

The blast accounted for Sosa's 88th and 89th of the season. By comparison, Javy Baez currently leads the Cubs (and the National League) with 72 RBI on July 17, 2018.

 

Steve Trachsel tossed a complete game for the Cubs in the victory that day and Sosa finished with the only extra-base hits for either team (he also had a double).

 

Fun fact: Former Cub Ryan Dempster started the game for the Marlins, but lasted just 4.1 innings to run his season record to 1-4 with a 6.70 ERA.