Cubs

Kyle Schwarber finds out what Cubs-White Sox is all about

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Kyle Schwarber finds out what Cubs-White Sox is all about

Kyle Schwarber didn’t realize a White Sox fan threw something at him until he got back to his spot in left field.

“Tall boy,” Schwarber said. “It wasn’t even drank all the way.”

Welcome to Chicago.

The Cubs enjoyed the party atmosphere late Saturday night inside U.S. Cellular Field’s visiting clubhouse after a 6-3 victory pushed their winning streak to nine games. Positioned for a crosstown sweep on Sunday, the Cubs are 19 games over .500, only 1.5 games behind the Pittsburgh Pirates for home-field advantage in the wild-card game.

[MORE: Addison Russell arrives ahead of schedule for red-hot Cubs]

The legend of Schwarber grew during what’s becoming an unbelievable rookie season. First, the kind of slight that drives Schwarber to prove people wrong, the doubts about his ability to catch in professional baseball and the perception the Cubs reached with the No. 4 overall pick last year. 

With two outs in the fifth inning of a 1-1 game and a runner on second base, the White Sox had left-hander Jose Quintana intentionally walk Dexter Fowler to pitch to Schwarber, who had struck out and popped out in his first two at-bats. 

Bad move. Schwarber lined an RBI single into right field. 

“I don’t take (anything personally),” Schwarber said. “It’s a smart decision, I guess, to not face a righty and go after a lefty. But it does get a little fire under you.”

The Cubs have generated so much momentum with Schwarber, who’s hitting .315 with eight homers and 27 RBI through his first 33 games in The Show.

[NBC SHOP: Gear up, Cubs fans!]

So when Alexei Ramirez knocked an RBI double into left field in the sixth inning – pulling the White Sox within one run – someone from the sellout crowd chucked a tall boy in Schwarber’s direction.

“I guess that’s what this series is all about,” Schwarber said.

The all-time move would have been for Schwarber to finish the beer right there. But the Cubs already feel almost invincible. After another big win, veteran catcher David Ross stood at his locker yelling at Schwarber while holding court with reporters.

“You should’ve shotgunned it,” Ross said. “That would have been awesome. You would have got points from me. You should have shotgunned it and then went over there and found him.

“I tell you what: I’d hate to try to wrap up Kyle Schwarber. I guarantee you that whoever threw that beer doesn’t want (any) part of Kyle Schwarber. I promise you that one.”

Cubs Talk Podcast: Manny Machado’s value and other Cubs offseason wish list items

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USA TODAY

Cubs Talk Podcast: Manny Machado’s value and other Cubs offseason wish list items

Did Manny Machado’s value take a hit at all after he openly admitted hustling isn’t his “cup of tea”? Our Cubs team (David Kaplan, Kelly Crull, Tony Andracki, Jeff Nelson) debate that, plus the potential fit of Machado or Bryce Harper for the 2019 Cubs and beyond.

[MORE: The most underrated storyline of the Cubs offseason]

The crew also runs down the top items on the Cubs’ offseason wish list – ranging from bullpen help to infield depth to a set leadoff hitter – in what may be the most impactful winter in Theo Epstein’s tenure in Chicago.

Listen to the podcast here or via the embedded player below:

The most underrated storyline of the Cubs offseason

The most underrated storyline of the Cubs offseason

There are plenty of intriguing Cubs storylines to monitor this offseason from their potential pursuit of the big free agents to any other changes that may come to the coaching staff or roster after a disappointing finish to the 2018 campaign.

But there's one question simmering under the radar in Cubs circles when it comes to this winter: How will the team solve the shortstop conundrum?

Just a few years ago, the Cubs had "too many" shortstops. Now, there are several different factors at play here that makes it a convoluted mess, as we discussed on the latest CubsTalk Podcast.

First: What will the Cubs do with Addison Russell? The embattled shortstop is in the midst of a suspension for domestic violence that will keep him off an MLB diamond for at least the first month of 2019.

Has Russell already played his last game with the Cubs? Will they trade him or send him packing in any other fashion this winter?

Theo Epstein mentioned several times he felt the organization needs to show support to the victim in the matter (Russell's ex-wife, Melisa) but also support for Russell. Does that mean they would keep him a part of the team at least through the early part of 2019?

Either way, Russell's days in Chicago are numbered and his play on the field took another big step back in 2018 as he fought through a hand injury and experienced a major dip in power. With his performance on the field and the off-field issues, it will be hard to justify a contract worth somewhere in the neighborhood of $4 million in his second year of arbitration (prorated, with a month's worth of pay taken out for the suspension).

Even if Russell is on the roster in 2019, Javy Baez is unquestionably the shortstop for at least the first month while Russell is on suspension. 

But what about beyond Baez if the Cubs want to give him a breather or disaster strikes and he's forced to miss time with an injury?

At the moment, there's nothing but question marks on the current Cubs shortstop depth chart throughout the entire organization and they're certainly going to need other options at the most important defensive position (outside of pitcher/catcher). 

There's David Bote, who subbed in for Baez at short once in September when Baez needed a break and Russell was on the disabled list. But while Bote's defense at third base and second base has opened eyes around the Cubs, he has only played 45 games at short across seven minor-league seasons, including 15 games in 2018. There's also the offensive question marks with the rookie, who hit just .176 with a .559 OPS and 40 strikeouts in 108 at-bats after that epic ultimate grand slam on Aug. 12.

The Cubs' other current shortstop options include Mike Freeman (a 31-year-old career minor-leaguer), Ben Zobrist (who will be 38 in 2019 and has played all of 13 innings at shortstop since 2014), Ryan Court (a 30-year-old career minor leaguer) and Chesny Young (a 26-year-old minor-leaguer who has posted a .616 OPS in 201 Triple-A games).

Maybe Joe Maddon would actually deploy Kris Bryant at shortstop in case of emergency like a Baez injury ("necessity is the mother of invention," as Maddon loves to say), but that seems a lot more like a fun talking point than a legit option at this current juncture.

So even if Russell sticks around, there's no way the Cubs can go into the first month of the season with just Baez and Bote as the only shortstop options on a team that with World Series or bust expectations.

The Cubs will need to acquire some shortstop depth this winter in some capacity, whether it's adding to the Triple-A Iowa roster or getting a veteran who can also back up other positions. Right now, the free agent pool of potential shortstops is pretty slim beyond Manny Machado.

Epstein always says he and his front office look to try to mitigate risk and analyze where things could go wrong to sink the Cubs' season and through that lense, shortstop is suddenly right up there behind adding more bullpen help this winter.