Kyle Schwarber, Willson Contreras and where Cubs go from here


Kyle Schwarber, Willson Contreras and where Cubs go from here

PHILADELPHIA – Kyle Schwarber delivered one of the season’s classic moments when he tripped turning at first base, signaled safe with his arms and got up to continue his home-run trot.

That summed up the youthful exuberance around the Cubs, Schwarber hitting two bombs in Game 2 of Friday’s doubleheader sweep of the Philadelphia Phillies and homering again in Saturday’s 7-5 walk-off loss at Citizens Bank Park.

That also showed why the Cubs haven’t completely given up on this catching experiment. Schwarber is willing to get dirty and not afraid to look bad.

“The fact that he wants to catch is a really big deal,” general manager Jed Hoyer said. “A lot of guys catch through college, catch through the minor leagues. They don’t love it. And I think that’s a really limiting factor to being really good at it.

“That’s a position where you have to sit there in the film room and study like crazy. You have to be willing to take the pounding necessary to do it. And he wants to do it. We believe in him.”

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Still, it’s hard to see Schwarber catching 120 games in 2016, when the Cubs might be a World Series favorite on paper after adding another frontline pitcher to go with Jake Arrieta, Jon Lester and a talented collection of young position players.

The Cubs aren’t necessarily counting on him for next year, but Willson Contreras could become part of that nucleus. Contreras – a 23-year-old catcher with a strong defensive background – opened eyes with an offensive breakthrough at Double-A Tennessee that saw him win the Southern League batting title (.333).

“What a great, great year,” Hoyer said. “It says a lot about a guy’s makeup to be able to go out there on the last day and go 4-for-4 (to clinch it).”

Contreras – who signed with the organization almost six years ago out of Venezuela – finished with eight homers, 34 doubles, 75 RBI and an .891 OPS (which represented a 212-point bump from the season before at advanced Class-A Daytona).

The Cubs plan to add Contreras to the 40-man roster this winter, invite him to big-league camp and let him continue to develop at Triple-A Iowa next season.

The Cubs owe Miguel Montero – a two-time All-Star catcher – $28 million across the next two seasons. David Ross, Lester’s personal catcher, still has one year left on his deal at $2.25 million. The Cubs can’t afford to keep Schwarber’s left-handed bat (16 homers, 42 RBI in 52 games) out of the lineup.

“Obviously, he’s not at the level of guys like Montero and Ross to this point,” Hoyer said. “Those guys have done it in the big leagues for a long time. But we think he can certainly get there.

“The fact that we put him out in left field when Miggy got back (from an injury) – that says nothing about how we feel about him as a catcher. It’s more to get more offense in the lineup.”

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Schwarber made his feelings known during his junior season at Indiana University, when he met with Cubs officials at the team’s spring-training complex in Arizona a few months before the 2014 draft: “It really f------ pisses me off when people say I can’t catch.”

“I do think it’s an option down the road, because he’s committed to it,” said vice president Jason McLeod, who oversees scouting and player development. “Kyle’s a guy that’s very driven (and) we have invested a lot of time with him with (catching instructors) Mike Borzello and Tim Cossins.

“He continues to do the work pregame, before the gates are open, but people don’t see it. That’s still to be determined. But right now, it looks like he’s in a pretty good spot.

“Ultimately, what’s best for the team is where he’s going to end up.”

That question will be central to how the Cubs attack this offseason. Move Montero to clear salary? Trade Contreras for pitching? Avoid making a commitment to a corner outfielder? Either way, Schwarber should be a building block for years to come.

Sports Talk Live Podcast: Can Jon Lester get out of his slump?


Sports Talk Live Podcast: Can Jon Lester get out of his slump?

David Haugh, Ben Finfer and Seth Gruen join Kap on the panel.

0:00- The Cubs winning streak is over as Jon Lester's struggles continue. Should fans be worried that he can't get out of this slump? Would he be a playoff starter right now?

8:40- The White Sox rebuild continues as Rick Hahn says fans might have to wait until next spring to see whether or not they'll be contenders. Is next year too early to compete?

15:00- The Bears backups get ready to face the Colts backups Saturday night. Is there any reason to have the preseason at all?

18:30- Mitch Trubisky's preseason is over. So is he ready for Week 1?

20:00- College football is back. The panel give their picks for Florida vs Miami in the Fanduel Friday Faves.

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

Cubs rallying behind Jon Lester after another tough outing

Cubs rallying behind Jon Lester after another tough outing

There are three ways to look at the Cubs' 9-3 loss Friday:

1) Jon Lester had another rough outing and the sun is starting to set on his career as a front-of-the-rotation starter.

2) Lester gave up some hard contact, but also had some tough luck and pitched better than his final line indicated.

3) Meh.

To be honest, each of the three perspectives has an element of truth to it, but the third one is probably the main way to look at it as the Cubs tasted defeat for the first time in a week.

No, the team did not play well, but it went far beyond Lester.

The Nationals didn't get into town until the wee hours of Friday morning, yet it was the Cubs who looked sluggish Friday. They managed only two baserunners - a single and a walk - until the ninth inning when they put together a too-little-too-late rally thanks to some shoddy Washington fielding.

But even if the offense did come to play, the game was out of hand by the fifth inning, when Lester and Pedro Strop combined to allow 3 runs, extending Washington's lead to 7-0.

Lester was charged with 6 runs on 9 hits and a walk over 4.1 innings, but 8 of those 9 hits were singles. The only extra-base knock off the Cubs southpaw was Adam Eaton's line drive home run in the first inning that he smacked into the 18 mph wind howling in off the lake.

Of the singles, a couple were hard ground balls knocked down by Cubs infielders and one was a perfectly executed bunt by pitcher Anibal Sanchez with two strikes that the Cubs had no choice but to hope it would roll foul. At that point in the fourth inning, the score was only 3-0, but the Cubs' misfortune seemed to open the door for the Nationals.

"I'm telling you, I don't think he was that bad today," Maddon said. "We were a little bit unlucky with him. ... Outside of that last inning when they squared him up, I thought he actually threw the ball decently.

"I think he's gonna be fine. He will find a way to get himself back into the picture in the right way. There's a lot of time left with the playoffs, etc., so I'm counting on it. I believe in Jon."

Beyond the tough luck, the Nationals hit five balls more than 100 mph off Lester, including a 108.5 mph single on the final batter (Juan Soto) he faced in the fifth inning.

After the game, Lester couldn't do much but shrug and accept responsibility for the loss.

"I feel fine," he said. "Today sucks. Tomorrow, I'll wake up and start a new day and get ready for another start. That doesn't take the sting away from today. Joe's always said, 'you win hard, you lose hard' and losing for me is even harder than that. Sucking as a pitcher is even harder than that.

"It's my job to do better and I'm not. I let a five-game winning streak basically go by the wayside because I didn't throw the ball very well. It's frustrating, but tomorrow starts a new day and move on to the next one."

Friday's game marks the fifth time this season Lester has allowed at least 6 runs in an outing. This was his 25th start of 2019, so that means 20 percent of his appearances have resulted in putting his team in a major hole.

"I think we're getting to the point where you can't isolate [the rough games]," Lester said. "They're happening a little bit too much for myself. I felt pretty good about myself after the last one, just being able to continually execute pitches. I don't feel like stuff was much different than last time, just different results and that's the shitty part about this game and my job - it's results driven and it doesn't matter how I feel or what the gameplan was going in.

"You have to execute and get people out and keep them from scoring runs and I'm just not doing that."

Lester started the five-game winning streak for the Cubs with a performance befitting true "ace" or "stopper" status. After a pair of disheartening bullpen meltdowns, he took the ball last Saturday and shut out the Pirates through 6 innings, battling despite not having his best stuff (5 walks).

But even including that start in Pittsburgh, Lester has now allowed 23 earned runs in 24.1 innings in five starts in August.

For a 35-year-old with three World Series rings and a long track record of pitching well when the lights are the brightest, he isn't where he wants to be as September approaches in a tight playoff race.

"Better than this," he said. "Usually this is the time of year where I pitch a lot better than I have been. For whatever reason, I haven't hit that stride. I usually have ups and downs to every season, but usually more ups than downs.

"Right now, it's just continuing to go down. The old saying - one step forward, two steps back - is kinda what I'm doing right now. The positive is I physically feel fine. Can't blame it on that. Just have to be better. Tomorrow's a new day, prepare for the next one."

Even with the recent struggles, Kyle Schwarber said Lester is still the guy the Cubs would want to give the ball to in Game 1 of a playoff series.

"He'll bounce back," Schwarber said. "He knows how to handle himself really well. He's a leader out there and we always have his back."

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