Cubs

Kyle Schwarber making an instant impact for Cubs

6-17-kyle-schwarber.png

Kyle Schwarber making an instant impact for Cubs

CLEVELAND — Is there any potential scenario where the Cubs keep Kyle Schwarber around longer than this six-game audition?

“No,” manager Joe Maddon said. “Unless we move to the American League.”

The Cubs usually like to parse language, overthink things and keep all options open. But they haven’t left any wiggle room with Schwarber, who is maximizing his time as a designated hitter before heading to Triple-A Iowa to continue developing as a catcher.

Schwarber has already shown that he can handle big-league pitching, blasting his first home run during Thursday’s 4-3 loss to the Cleveland Indians in front of 15,891 at Progressive Field. The Cubs are getting instant offense with Schwarber, who has six hits in his first 10 at-bats in The Show, scoring five runs and driving in four more.

“It’s surprisingly not that much different,” Schwarber said. “It is better stuff. But you just got to go up there with a good approach. I’m just trying to get my pitch. And when I do get my pitch — don’t miss it.”

[MORE CUBS: Why Joe Maddon ordered Tsuyoshi Wada to say 'I am a badass']

Not that the Cubs had any doubts about Schwarber’s left-handed bat after watching him pile up 31 homers and 92 RBIs in his first 130 games in the minors. But keep in mind this is someone who didn’t make his professional debut until June 13 last year after getting drafted fourth overall out of Indiana University.

This is what the Cubs envisioned, Schwarber working a 3-2 count and launching Danny Salazar’s 96 mph fastball 375 feet into the left-field seats for a two-run homer in the fifth inning.

It counted after a second rain delay that lasted one hour and 16 minutes and knocked out starting pitcher Jason Hammel, who gave up three runs in four innings and labeled Schwarber as part of “the best group of young kids I’ve been around, for sure.”

“He puts the barrel on the ball real nice,” said Hammel, who pitched in the playoffs for the Colorado Rockies and Baltimore Orioles and went to the 2008 World Series with the Tampa Bay Rays.

“He’s got a very, very good approach at the plate, as you can see. It’s a tough out right now. It’s pretty impressive for a young guy that’s just come up and kind of getting his feet wet.

“We were expecting to maybe just get a look at him, but he’s actually made a pretty big impact just in the few games so far.”

[MORE CUBS: How would Joe Maddon handle Pablo Sandoval’s Instagram problem?]

Is there any buzz in the clubhouse about lobbying to keep Schwarber around?

“Oh yeah, we always want to lobby for guys that are hitting the ball hard like he is,” Hammel said. “But that’s obviously not our realm. He’s a great kid. He’s going to be good for a long time.

“Hopefully, he stays, but obviously that’s something for the front office.”

The media flocked to Schwarber before and after his big-league debut on Monday night at Wrigley Field. Reporters did the same thing again on Wednesday inside the visiting clubhouse.

Schwarber, who grew up outside Cincinnati, had about 40 or 50 guests here in Cleveland, and he must be hearing the what-if questions from all angles.

“I always just try to keep my head buried, man,” Schwarber said. “I don’t like to think about that stuff, because that can mess with me when I’m up at the plate.”

[SHOP CUBS: Get your Cubs gear right here]

Schwarber sees the organization’s big picture and wants to finish his education at catcher. He’s not looking to transfer to left field next week, even if it meant playing against the Los Angeles Dodgers in Wrigleyville.

“(Catching is) something that I want to do, personally,” he said. “If it takes more time, it takes more time. That’s what I want to do. I’ve always done it. I have a true passion for it.”

Still, Schwarber will be only one phone call away in Des Moines, and the Cubs (35-29) will be playing to win. There will come a point — maybe in August — where he will have caught enough this season and won’t have anything left to prove as a hitter in the minors.

Until then, enjoy these three DH games against the Minnesota Twins. The Schwarber Show is coming to Target Field.

Jed Hoyer says Cubs plan to add depth before the trade deadline

Jed Hoyer says Cubs plan to add depth before the trade deadline

With the second half of the season about to kick off Thursday afternoon, the Cubs front office is in the final stretch of roster building as the July 31st non-waiver trade deadline looms.

Cubs General Manager Jed Hoyer spoke with NBC Sports Chicago's very own David Kaplan today on his ESPN 1000 radio show answering plenty of questions on what the Cubs' gameplan is before the trade deadline. 

There has already been a flurry of moves over the past few days, with two of the more enticing trade pieces being moved in new Dodger shortstop Manny Machado and former Padres reliever Brad Hand, who was traded to the Indians Thursday morning.

But when asked about going after big-name talent at the deadline, Hoyer explained while the team may "engage" in those conversations, the focus for him and the Cubs was on adding depth to the roster. 

"Obviously, we'll be involved in those [trade] discussions, but I do feel like adding depth is something we are going to do. We're going to be in on every discussion, but at the same time, I do believe we have the pieces internally to be a heck of a team." 

The name that has garnered attention recently has been Mets starting pitcher Jacob deGrom, who is currently having the best season of his career at age 30, but Hoyer made no indication the Cubs would once again facilitate another blockbuster deal.

And even with Tyler Chatwood struggling to locate the strike zone this season, Hoyer made it clear the front office hasn't lost faith in their second biggest investment of the off-season. 

"We're confident [Chatwood] will have a better second half, we're going to have a really big, long pennant race," Hoyer said. "It's going to be really challenging second half and we're going to need all the pitching we can possibly get and I think Tyler is going to be a big part of that." 

In terms of team needs, the Cubs are a club with few holes on their roster but could stand to add more pitching in both the bullpen and rotation with everyone but Jon Lester having frustrating moments in the first half of the season.

Making moves similar to the Mike Montgomery trade in 2016 are what Hoyer relishes, telling Kaplan those are the moves the Cubs "pride themselves on." 

But when it comes to Cubs improving on their already impressive first half of baseball, Jed Hoyer continued to back the players who are currently on the roster.

And while it may not be the move that creates the social media buzz fans crave this time of year, Hoyer knows he can get more from his current roster in the second half. 

"There's no doubt that the best way we can get better is by having guys we already have [play] better than they have to date." 

 

Yadier Molina sees something familiar in Cubs: 'They remind me of what we were back in the day'

Yadier Molina sees something familiar in Cubs: 'They remind me of what we were back in the day'

Yadier Molina has been playing the Cubs for a decade and a half.

For 15 years, Molina has been one of the faces of the St. Louis Cardinals, making nine All-Star Games, winning eight Gold Gloves, playing in nine postseasons and winning a pair of World Series championships. And for much of that time, his Cardinals had the upper hand in the rivalry between the two National League Central foes.

But that's changed in recent years. The Cubs have ascended to the Cardinals' old spot as a perennial contender, and it was their defeat of the Cardinals in the NLDS back in 2015 that really seemed to usher in the current era of World Series expectations on the North Side.

If you watch any rivalry long enough, you'll see the balance of power shift back and forth. Molina has been watching this rivalry for a long time.

"They've got good chemistry, they've got good talent there, they play together," Molina said Tuesday in Washington, D.C., before suiting up alongside Willson Contreras and Javy Baez on the NL All-Star team. "So yeah, they remind me of what we were back in the day with the Cardinals."

High praise considering all that Molina and those old Cardinals teams accomplished.

It wasn't too long ago that the Cardinals were a dominant force in this division and in this rivalry. Between 2009 and 2015, the Cubs lost double-digit games to the Cardinals in all but one season. The Cardinals won a World Series title during that seven-year span (2011), ending all but one of those campaigns with a postseason appearance. The Cubs, meanwhile, had five straight fifth-place finishes and missed the playoffs in all but the last.

But since the end of the 2015 regular season, the Cubs are 30-20 against their biggest rivals, a record that includes that 3-1 series win in the 2015 NLDS.

And now it's the Cubs who have seemingly built a winning machine. Like the Cardinals dominated the division with a core cast of characters that included Molina as well as Albert Pujols, Adam Wainwright and Matt Holliday, the Cubs now have that reliable core featuring Anthony Rizzo, Kris Bryant, Baez, Contreras and so many others. They're expected to be at the top of the Central standings and compete for championships, just like the Cardinals were for much of a decade.

The Cardinals, of course, have quite recently been thrown into a state of atypical tumult with manager Mike Matheny fired in the middle of the season and a couple off-the-field controversies grabbing national headlines. That's not to say they're exactly out of contention, though, as they begin the second half with an above-.500 record, 7.5 games back of the division-leading Cubs and only four games back for the second NL wild card spot.

But when you compare the drama-drenched Cardinals with the Cubs — who while no one would describe as firing on all cylinders have managed to stay not far behind their 2016 pace — there's a noticeable gap, a gap that's somewhat crazy to think about for those who can remember the Cardinals' past dominance in this rivalry.

Though the Cardinals have actually won more head-to-head matchups this season (five of the eight), the five-game set to begin the second half — the first of eight games between the two teams over the next two weekends — would figure to favor the Cubs, who won 12 of 15 to close out the first half.

"It's important for us to go out there and try to win the series. Right now, we need that as a club," Molina said. "It's going to be tough. The Cubs, they're playing good baseball right now, they've got chemistry there. It's going to be tough, but our concentration is on trying to win the series."