Cubs

Kyle Schwarber shows why he's a freak of nature who can do some World Series damage for Cubs

Kyle Schwarber shows why he's a freak of nature who can do some World Series damage for Cubs

CLEVELAND — Kyle Schwarber is a freak of nature, a hitter with the hand-eye coordination, explosiveness and guts to do what should be impossible. But it’s a bad sign for the Cubs when a guy who hadn’t seen big-league action in 201 days looked like one of the toughest outs in their World Series lineup.

Now you know why the Cubs believed Schwarber could help get them that championship parade down Michigan Avenue — and how the Cleveland Indians won’t just fade into history’s background as The Other Team. After a 6-0 loss, the question now becomes: How soon will Schwarber be ready to play the outfield?

“No, not right now,” Schwarber said.

Schwarber walked into the Progressive Field interview room at 4 p.m. on Tuesday, becoming the biggest Game 1 story after his stunning recovery from major surgery on his left knee. He didn’t have a hit all season — a brutal collision on April 7 was supposed to knock him out until Opening Day 2017 — but there was his name in the No. 5 spot as the designated hitter against Corey Kluber.

“Once I hit that line, a lot of emotions will come pouring out,” Schwarber said. “I’ll probably cry at some point today. It was a long road, but once we step in between those lines, it’s game time. I’m going to be locked in. I’m going to be ready to go (and) try to win this.”

Schwarber had tracked roughly 1,300 pitches off a machine at the team’s spring-training complex and gotten eight plate appearances with the Mesa Solar Sox in the Arizona Fall League, where about 100 people might watch those games.

Now Schwarber stepped into the batter’s box for the franchise’s first World Series game in 71 years in front of a sellout crowd (38,091) and a national-TV audience. A “Let’s go, Cubs!” chant started in the second inning before Schwarber struck out swinging against Kluber, who notched eight strikeouts through the first three innings.

But Schwarber at least got acclimated against the 2014 American League Cy Young Award winner, just missing a home run in his next at-bat, slamming Kluber’s first-pitch fastball off the right-center field wall for a two-out double in the fourth inning.

That’s why the Cubs arranged for a private plane to fly him on Monday from the Phoenix area to Cleveland, where he could change franchise history with one big swing, the way he drilled five homers during last year’s playoffs and became a Wrigleyville folk hero.

“With him, anything is possible,” said manager Joe Maddon, who didn’t hesitate to put Schwarber in the lineup.

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It’s hard to overstate how much the Cubs love his energy, presence and powerful left-handed swing, ever since they saw his hard-charging style at Indiana University and recognized the football mentality that made him an All-Ohio linebacker in high school. Theo Epstein’s front office drafted Schwarber fourth overall in 2014, back when it almost looked like a reach for a DH with an unclear defensive future behind the plate or in the outfield.

After getting a better-than-expected progress report last week from Dr. Daniel Cooper — the head team physician for the Dallas Cowboys who reconstructed his ACL and repaired his LCL — Schwarber went full speed ahead. That’s really his only gear.

“I called Theo right away and I was like: ‘Hey, I’d love the opportunity to try,’” Schwarber said. “Knowing that I had the opportunity to try and get back, it would kill me deep down inside if I didn’t. And I knew going into it there were no guarantees.

“I didn’t want the media attention. I didn’t want any of that. I did it for my teammates. I did it for me, too. That’s the competitor in me.”

The Cubs made Schwarber untouchable in any trade talks, even as the New York Yankees dangled Andrew Miller, who now looms as another World Series X-factor in the Cleveland bullpen.

Schwarber worked a six-pitch walk against Miller in the seventh inning before the dominant left-handed reliever escaped a bases-loaded, no-outs jam by getting Willson Contreras to fly out to shallow center field and striking out Addison Russell and David Ross.

Miller (0.00 ERA this postseason) won the battle with two runners on in the eighth inning, striking out Schwarber swinging at an 84-mph slider to end the threat.

“He didn’t show any rust, did he?” Miller said. “You hope that somebody like that is either having to cheat for balls or guess or do something. (But) I don’t think we can write him off as somebody that’s rusty or that’s not ready to play. It’s impressive.”

The Cubs can still feel it coming — especially after forcing Miller to throw 46 pitches — and they will need Schwarber against a Cleveland team that isn’t just happy to be here.

“He had a postseason for the ages last year,” Epstein said. “He’s only had four or five days of live pitching. But some things transcend standards and routine, and we think he’s capable of some special things.

“He’s going to face great pitching, so he’s going to make outs, just like all our guys. But we think there’ll be a moment where he does something special for us.”

Cubs free agent Nick Castellanos reportedly agrees to deal with Reds

Cubs free agent Nick Castellanos reportedly agrees to deal with Reds

Yesterday, it was reported that the Reds were the favorite to ink Cubs free agent right fielder Nick Castellanos. On Monday, it appears those two sides have reached an agreement on a multi-year deal, per The Athletic's C. Trent Rosencrans and Ken Rosenthal: 

Given the Cubs' desire to steer clear of the luxury tax in 2020, the odds of a reunion with Castellanos were always low. The club's recent signing of outfielder Steven Souza only furthered that belief.

To lose him to a divison rival, though, undoubtedly stings, especially considering the gumption with which the Reds have approached the offseason. Cincinnati has also notably added Mike Moustakas, Shogo Akiyama and Wade Miley this winter.

MLB Network's Jon Heyman reported the deal is for $64 million over four years and added that the deal includes at least one opt-out.

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Reds are favorite to sign Cubs free agent outfielder Nick Castellanos, report says

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USA TODAY

Reds are favorite to sign Cubs free agent outfielder Nick Castellanos, report says

The odds of a Cubs-Nick Castellanos reunion happening have seemed slim all offseason. Although they've been connected to him at various points this winter, bringing back the fan favorite right fielder would require some serious financial gymnastics for the North Siders.

With the Cubs cognizant of the luxury tax, the division rival Reds have emerged as the favorite to sign Castellanos, according to MLB insider Jon Morosi.

The Reds have emerged as the frontrunner to sign free-agent outfielder Nicholas Castellanos, one source said Sunday, and there are indications the sides have made progress over the past several days. While Cincinnati is now the favorite to sign Castellanos, the Giants also have negotiated with the 27-year-old in recent weeks.

Because of their desire to stay under the luxury tax in 2020, the Cubs have only made low-cost acquisitions this winter. They were penalized $7.6 million for eclipsing the threshold in 2019; if they do so in 2020, they'll be taxed 30 percent on their overages —  and see their 2021 draft pick drop 10 spots, if they go over the figure by $40 million.

At this point, the only realistic scenario where the Cubs re-sign Castellanos is if they shed salary. However, they've reportedly signed outfielder Steven Souza to a one-year deal, giving them five outfielders (along with Kyle Schwarber, Albert Almora, Ian Happ, Jason Heyward). That might be the biggest indicator of a reunion not being in the cards.

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