Cubs

Kyle Schwarber makes Cardinals pay for Yadier Molina’s hidden-ball trick as Cubs win series in St. Louis

Kyle Schwarber makes Cardinals pay for Yadier Molina’s hidden-ball trick as Cubs win series in St. Louis

ST. LOUIS – Yadier Molina looked all around home plate and couldn’t find the ball as pinch-hitter Matt Szczur ran to first base after whiffing on Brett Cecil’s curveball in the dirt for strike three. Hands on his hips, the Gold Glove catcher couldn’t help smiling after realizing it somehow got stuck in his chest protector.  

Welcome back to the Cubs-Cardinals rivalry, where late-game crazy happens. As the young Cubs shredded their “Lovable Loser” label and grew up into World Series champs, they became a relentless team that pounced on the smallest mistakes and capitalized on the random bounces. In some ways, it mirrored The Cardinal Way and how momentum could keep building and building at Busch Stadium.

[GIFs: Strangest play ever helps fuel Cubs comeback]

It all came crashing down on the Cardinals in the seventh inning on a brisk, sunny Thursday afternoon, Szczur reaching base on that hidden-ball trick, ex-Cardinal Jon Jay drawing a walk and Kyle Schwarber doing the damage that turned him into a Mr. October before his first full season in The Show.

Schwarber launched a first-pitch fastball that traveled 404 feet and stayed just inside the right-field foul pole for the go-ahead, three-run homer. Amid a raucous celebration inside the visiting clubhouse after a 6-4 win, Schwarber heard someone yell out: “You made it past Game 3!”

“And then we all went crazy,” Schwarber said.

Schwarber got carted off Chase Field during Game 3 last year with what was supposed to be a season-ending injury. Major surgery on his left knee that reconstructed his ACL and repaired his LCL didn’t stop him from hitting .412 with a .971 OPS in the World Series, cementing his legendary status around the Cubs.  

This time, Schwarber flicked his bat and admired the flight of the ball after jumping Cecil, the lefty reliever the Cardinals handed a four-year, $30.5 million contract after missing the playoffs for the first time since 2010. The early returns on the Schwarber leadoff experiment: 3-for-10 with a .500 on-base percentage and a season-opening series win in St. Louis.  

“There are a lot of lineups that are probably bunting right there with their leadoff guy in that situation where he goes deep,” said pitcher John Lackey, who batted eighth and lasted six innings after a three-run first. “But our guy’s trying to hit it in the seats.”

What makes a ball stick to a chest protector like that?

“You’d have to ask somebody else,” said Lackey, who played with Molina for a season-and-a-half in St. Louis. “I wouldn’t know anything about sticky stuff.”

Molina called it a “dumb question,” according to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, when asked if he put something on his catching gear.

“I didn’t know if they came out with Velcro on the protector or it’s just like a fuzzy baseball,” Cubs manager Joe Maddon said. “I’m not sure what happened. It was definitely Velcro-d to his chest. And it helped us, yes.”

Schwarber – an emergency catcher who might have to wear a brace on his left leg for the rest of his career – offered this theory: “Catchers like to put pine tar on their leg guard for extra stick to throw the ball to second base, things like that, get feeling. So maybe it might rub off some if he overloads and it just stuck? You never know.”   

“Probably Tuf-Skin, sticky spray, something like that, maybe pine tar,” said Jason Heyward, who played with Molina on a 100-win St. Louis team in 2015. “Never seen that happen. We joked about it next time I came to the plate. We had a saying when I was over there – ‘Never seen it’ – that definitely came into effect.

“You think you’ve seen it all – and then baseball shows you that you haven’t seen it all.”

That’s the beauty of this game, the helter-skelter moments in this rivalry and the intensity and unpredictability with a talent like Schwarber. On Opening Night, Schwarber had a horseshoe hanging down from his locker, a memento from the Clydesdale he hit in the butt during a batting-practice show in spring training.  

By the time Schwarber showered and changed into jeans, a gray hoodie and cowboy boots, the horseshoe had been packed into his bag for Milwaukee. Even the uber-talented, supremely confident Cubs will take all the luck they can get, because the rest of Major League Baseball is coming for them now.  

“I turned around the horseshoe, too,” Schwarber said. “I turned it up so I could make it through.”

 

 

Cubs Talk Podcast: Ned Colletti interview

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USA TODAY

Cubs Talk Podcast: Ned Colletti interview

On the latest Cubs Talk Podcast, David Kaplan talks with former Cubs front office executive and Dodgers GM Ned Colletti on how to fix a major league roster, when to deal a player who is heading into free agency, and more

01:30 How he moved from MLB to being a scout in the NHL

04:30 How to fix a major league roster

06:40 On building the roster when other teams know your weaknesses

09:30 When to deal a player who is facing free agency

11:30 Balancing trying to win now vs. building a team for a sustained run

14:30 On how a GM can't depend only on signing a big free agent

18:00 On his time with the Cubs in the 1980s

19:45 On how a GM deals with Scott Boras

22:00 On how a GM deals with talk radio and the media

26:00 On how he almost got CC Sabathia on the Dodgers for 2008 playoff run

28:00 On how not trading for Ryan Dempster helped bring Kyle Hendricks to the Cubs

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

Cubs Talk Podcast

Subscribe:

Click here to download the new MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream Cubs games easily on your device.

Cubs aiming to finalize coaching staff this week

Cubs aiming to finalize coaching staff this week

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — If fans are feeling impatient waiting for the Cubs coaching staff to be finalized, the front office feels their anxiety.

Jed Hoyer said Tuesday afternoon at the MLB GM Meetings the Cubs hope to settle their coaching staff before the week is up, putting an end to what he joked has been a six-week human resources process.

Theo Epstein confirmed Monday Will Venable will be back as a base coach for the Cubs in 2020, though which base is not yet certain. Venable who interviewed for the managerial vacancy this fall, spent 2019 as the first-base coach for the Cubs, but also filled in at third base early in the season when incumbent Brian Butterfield dealt with vertigo. 

In addition to Joe Maddon, Mark Loretta (bench coach), Butterfield (third-base coach), Lester Strode (bullpen coach) and Chris Denorfia (quality assurance coach) are also out.

That leaves the coaching staff as follows:

Manager — David Ross
Bench coach — Andy Green
Pitching coach — Tommy Hottovy
Associate pitching coach, catching and strategy coach — Mike Borzello
Hitting coach — Anthony Iapoce
Assistant hitting coach — Terrmel Sledge
Bullpen coach — Chris Young
Base coach — Will Venable
Base coach — open
Quality assurance coach — open

It's actually been longer than six weeks since the Cubs informed Maddon they intended to move on from the World Series-winning manager, but it hasn't even been three weeks since the Cubs officially hired David Ross as the replacement. 

But the offseason is fully in gear now and the Cubs would like to turn their full attention to the roster.

"We'd love to get [the coaching staff] done by the end of the week," Hoyer said. "I don't know if that's realistic or not, but that'd be a great goal. We're starting to put together some meetings and stuff with those guys coming to Chicago, so it's not like we're not moving forward with stuff. But I do feel like it's time to have that locked down."

Ross has obviously had a say in the new additions to the staff, going through what Hoyer called a "crash course" in interviewing and hiring coaches. Ross doesn't have much experience working with Green — the most important of the new hires — but he has worked closely with Hottovy and Borzello in the past from his days as a player. He's also been around those guys and the other holdovers on the coaching staff while serving as a special assistant in the front office the last three seasons.

Still, Hoyer said the Cubs are cognizant of Ross' need to have somebody on the coaching staff he trusts. 

"You want guys to fill certain roles on your staff — coaching, strategy, etc." Hoyer said. "But there's also a camaraderie you want to create. There's a relationship with the manager that you want to give that manager. It's a really hard and lonely job at times. 

"Having someone on that staff that you trust that you've known from the past that you can vent to or grab a beer with or grab breakfast with and talk about it, I think that's really important."

Once the final two spots on the coaching staff are finalized, Ross can also turn his attention to pressing matters like immersing himself in the Cubs' behind-the-scenes processes with the research and development staff and the rest of the front office.

Ross has some knowledge of that from his front office work over the last three years, but he also was enjoying time in retirement with his family in addition to his duties as an MLB analyst/broadcaster for ESPN.

"The best way he can hit the ground running is just become really familiar with all of the stuff that we do in the office even beyond what he's already done," Hoyer said. "Using it as a great learning winter for spring training, it's really important from an organization standpoint and a message standpoint. I know he wants to hit the ground running and the best way to do that is to be in the office as much as possible to be able to map out spring training."