Cubs

Kyle Schwarber making an instant impact for Cubs

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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.”

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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.

As he decides what's next, it's clear Ben Zobrist has something left in the tank

As he decides what's next, it's clear Ben Zobrist has something left in the tank

When Ben Zobrist rejoined the Cubs active roster on Sept. 1, it was fair to wonder how much he could provide offensively. After all, he spent the previous four months on the restricted list while tending to a family matter, last playing a big-league game on May 6.

Zobrist did no baseball activities from May to mid-July, only working out to stay in shape. Although he eventually ramped things up, he played in just 12 minor league rehab games in August before returning to the Cubs, a small number compared to the length of his absence.

Even Zobrist admitted upon his big-league return that his timing at the plate wasn’t where he wanted it to be. And yet, what he did in September was nothing short of impressive. In 21 games, he posted a .284/.377/.388 slash line, performing at a level many couldn’t have expected, considering the circumstances.

Zobrist's impact on the Cubs' lineup goes beyond what you see in the box score, however. Not only is he a switch hitter with some pop, but he has a keen eye for the strike zone and frequently puts together professional at-bats.

On a Cubs team that tends to expand the zone, Zobrist’s presence mattered. In his second game back, for example, he went 3-for-3 with two walks, helping the Cubs beat the Brewers 10-5. After the game, Brewers starter Chase Anderson pointed out how different the Cubs' lineup looks with Zobrist in it.

"They play the matchups really well and Zobrist makes that team so much better," Anderson said on Sept. 5. "Just bringing his presence to the top of the lineup, it changes their dynamic a little bit."

Where Zobrist stands entering 2020, though, is currently unclear.

Zobrist is set to hit free agency after the World Series and will turn 39 next May. Therefore, it’s possible that he’s played his last game in the big leagues, as he has little, if anything, left to prove at this stage in his career.

Ahead of the Cubs’ season finale on Sept. 29, Zobrist told reporters in St. Louis that he hasn’t thought about how much time he’ll take before deciding what’s next for him. His family situation will obviously play a big role in his decision, but if September showed anything, it's that he still has something left in the tank.

“I’m 38 but I got that feeling all over again,” Zobrist said following the Cubs’ season finale, a 9-0 loss to the Cardinals in which he pitched a scoreless inning. “Just really fun, you know? It’s a fun game. Sometimes you don’t come out on the winning end, but you still gotta have fun with it and enjoy it. I enjoyed it today."

The Cubs roster is expected to undergo changes this offseason, with center field, second base and the leadoff spot being just a few areas the team will look to address. The latter two spots became revolving doors during Zobrist’s absence, as the Cubs struggled to replace what he brought offensively.

Zobrist is past the point in his career of being an everyday player. However, he still could be a useful asset for the Cubs in a supporting role, bringing his veteran approach to the lineup when he plays while still offering an experienced voice in the clubhouse.

“I take a lot of joy in that role, just being a supporting guy and being a part of winning clubs and part of winning atmospheres and cultures,” Zobrist said on Sept. 29. “The Chicago Cubs have been that since I’ve been around. This year we didn’t make the playoffs — we still have a winning record — (but) the kind of relationships that are built here and the culture that’s been built here is definitely a winning one.”

After the Cubs announced that they wouldn’t retain Joe Maddon for 2020, Zobrist acknowledged that more changes were likely coming in the offseason. Only time will tell what that means for the veteran utilityman — should he continue playing.

Whether he retires or joins a different team for 2020, though, Zobrist will look back on his four seasons with the Cubs fondly.

“(They’re) just the most passionate fans I’ve ever met,” he said of Cubs fans. “They’re very loyal, very passionate and it’s been such a pleasure to be a part of that team that beat the curse back in ’16, so I feel that still, when I see Cubs fans, there’s a lot of them that hug me and thank me for being a part of that.

“I’ll always look back at [my] time here — I don’t know what’s going to happen in the offseason — but look back at these four years and [be] very grateful to be able to be part of a group like this and be able to do what we did while I was here.”

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Cubs Talk Podcast: An ode to Joe Maddon and looking to the next era

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USA Today

Cubs Talk Podcast: An ode to Joe Maddon and looking to the next era

On the latest Cubs Talk Podcast, Tony Andracki, Kelly Crull, Scott Changnon and Jeff Nelson give us their memories of Joe Maddon's time with the Cubs and discuss David Ross and Joe Espada's candidacy to be the next manager.

01:30 Kelly's memories of Joe from the perspective of a reporter

06:00 Going back to Hazleton with Joe

07:45 Joe's legacy as manager of the Cubs

16:00 How Joe impacted Javy Baez' career

18:00 David Ross and Joe Espada may be the leaders to replace Joe Maddon.

Listen here or via the embedded player below:

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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.