Cubs

Kyle Schwarber has become larger than life during Cubs postseason run

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Kyle Schwarber has become larger than life during Cubs postseason run

Kyle Schwarber had his Babe Ruth moment and Mickey Mantle moment all in one play Tuesday night.

The Cubs rookie did his best impression of the New York Yankees legends with his mammoth home run in the seventh inning of Game 4 of the National League Division Series against the St. Louis Cardinals.

It may not have been 565 feet like Mantle's shot in 1953, but Schwarber's homer landed on top of the scoreboard in right field, settling beneath the Budweiser sign that illuminates that area of the baseball universe.

[RELATED - Chemistry matters for Cubs team taking the playoffs by storm]

He didn't aim his bat toward the bleachers like Babe Ruth did from the same batter's box in the 1932 World Series, but Schwarber did call his shot with Cubs centerfielder Dexter Fowler.

"We were out in center field and [Cubs manager Joe Maddon] was making a pitching change and I was just joking around," Schwarber said. "I said, 'I'm going to hit a home run off this guy,' and [Fowler was] like, 'Do it.' There you go."

The Cubs verified Schwarber's ball on top of the right-field scoreboard and will keep it up there as a badge of honor/memento/intimidation tactic through the rest of the postseason, even encasing it in glass to protect it from the elements:

 

 

 

 

What's even more incredible about Schwarber's home run was that it came off a left-hander. In the regular season, Schwarber hit just .143 with a .481 OPS and only two homers off southpaws.

But in the playoffs, none of that matters.

[SHOP: Buy Cubs playoff gear]

That shot was Schwarber's third homer of the postseason and he's hitting .538 with a 1.831 OPS in five playoff games.

The legend of the 22-year-old rookie continues to grow, even after he finished the season hitting just .177 with a .655 OPS in the final 30 games.

Schwarber has gotten hot at just the right time for the Cubs offense, looking more like a seasoned veteran than a guy who was seen as a reach with the No. 4 overall pick in 2014.

It's quite a journey for a kid who was in Arizona for instructional ball around this time last year.

[MORE: Cubs become baseball's biggest party and best story]

"It's been a crazy ride, and I'm blessed to be here," Schwarber said. "You know, it could have been a totally different story if I was on a different team.

"Coming into this organization and them believing in me all the way from our front office to our ownership to our coaches. And then when I did come up with our players, they made it so easy on me to come up and just do my job, and that's play baseball.

"It could have been 'Rookie this, rookie that, you do that.' It wasn't any of that. It was, 'You're here to help us win, let's go.'"

On a mistake-filled afternoon, Javier Baez does what he does best and saves the Cubs

On a mistake-filled afternoon, Javier Baez does what he does best and saves the Cubs

Consider the Cubs’ starting middle infield in Saturday’s 6-5 win over the San Diego Padres to be comprised of two extremes. 

On one end of the spectrum was Addison Russell, who started at second base. Russell was doubled off second base on an Albert Almora line drive in the second inning — a ball hit hard enough where, had it fell in for a hit, he wouldn’t have scored. There was no spinning Russell drifting far enough off second base to be doubled up; it was simply bad baserunning. 

Russell, too, was thrown out at home on an Almora ground ball in the fourth inning. He appeared to lose a pop fly in the sun, too, which fell in for a double in the third inning. 

Manager Joe Maddon was willing to excuse the pop-up double — “The sun ball, there’s nothing you could do about that,” he said — but sounded frustrated with Russell’s far-too-frequent baserunning gaffes. 

“He’s gotta straighten some things out,” Maddon said. “He has to. There’s no question. I’m not going to stand here — he’s got to, we’ve talked about his baserunning in the past. 

“… The baserunning, there’s some things there — we’re making too many outs on the bases and we’re missing things on the bases that we can’t to be an elite team.”

Russell’s mistakes were part of a larger sloppy showing by both teams. As Cubs reliever Brandon Kintzler put it: “No lead was safe. It was really just who was going to survive and not make so many mistakes.”

Javier Baez ensured the Cubs would survive by not merely avoiding mistakes, but by coming up with two massive plays. 

Baez’s three-run home run in the fourth inning gave the Cubs’ the lead for good, and he fell a triple short of the cycle. He’s homered in consecutive games, and Maddon senses the 26-year-old is emerging from a slump that dropped his OPS to .853 after Wednesday’s game, his lowest mark since the small-sample-size landscape of mid-April. 

But it was Baez’s masterful tag in the bottom of the ninth inning that captured most of the attention around Wrigley Field, reminding everyone in the dugouts and stands just how incredible “El Mago” can be. 

Craig Kimbrel walked Wil Myers to lead off the bottom of the ninth inning, and after budding superstar Fernando Tatis Jr. inexplicably bunted (he popped out), Myers took off to steal second base. Kimbrel sailed a fastball high and inside, and Victor Caratini’s throw was well to the left of second base. Myers appeared to have the base stolen until Baez gloved the ball and rapidly snapped a tag onto Myers’ left leg:

”We needed a play made, and he made it,” first baseman Anthony Rizzo said. “It’s what he does.”

Baez’s home run increased the Cubs’ win expectancy by 35.7 percent; his tag on Myers upped it that mark from 83.3 percent to 96.5 percent. This is why the Cubs’ mantra, even when Baez is in a lull, is to let Javy be Javy. 

One player can’t carry a team forever — Baez had his best season as a pro in 2018, only to see the Cubs crash out of the Wild Card game, of course. But it’s hard to not think about the kind of plays Baez can conjure up when the Cubs need them the most in 2019’s playoff race. 

After all, stuff like that tag on Myers — the Cubs have come to expect that from Baez. 

“You saw a lot of plays today, they weren’t baseball plays,” Maddon said. “The game is clamoring for baseball players who know how to play this game, and he’s one. He is one. He’s got the biggest hard drive, the most RAM, he’s got everything going on every day. 

“He sees things, he’s got great vision. Technically, he’s a tremendous baseball player. He’s going to make some mistakes, like everyone else does, but what he sees and sees in advance — it’s like the best running back, it’s the best point guard you’ve ever seen. It’s all of that. As a shortstop, that’s what he is.

“… We needed him to be that guy today and he was. And again, it’s not overtly surprising.” 

SportsTalk Live Podcast: Dare we ask... are the Cubs back?

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USA TODAY

SportsTalk Live Podcast: Dare we ask... are the Cubs back?

Rick Telander, Ben Finfer and Seth Gruen join Kap on the panel.

0:00 - The Cubs beat the Padres from their 6th win in their 7 games since the All-Star Break. Are they really this good or are they just feasting on sub-.500 teams?

7:00 - The White Sox have lost seven straight after the break. Should fans be furious with the slump or still optimistic about the future?

13:00 - The Bears report to Bourbonnais in 6 days. Will the 2019 season be a failure if they do not make it to the Super Bowl?

19:00 - Kap gives out his play of the night in the FanDuel Friday Faves.

Listen to the entire episode here or in the embedded player below.

Sports Talk Live Podcast

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