Cubs

Kyle Schwarber, Willson Contreras and where Cubs go from here

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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.

Forget 2015, the Brewers are more like 2016 Cubs

Forget 2015, the Brewers are more like 2016 Cubs

With the Milwaukee Brewers about to kick off the NLCS, many Cubs fans and pundits have taken to comparing them to the 2015 Cubs.

At first glance, it's easy to see why — they're in the playoffs for the first time as something of an underdog and "surprise" team — but that's not the recent Cubs squad we should be comparing the 2018 Brewers to.

This Milwaukee team is a lot more like the 2016 Cubs.

Here's why:

1. They're not a surprise.

Nobody expected the 2015 Cubs to win 97 games and wind up in the NLCS. They were expected to compete very soon, but everything went right in a red-hot August, they rode Jake Arrieta's right arm to the NLDS and then toppled the Cardinals to get to the LCS, where they ran into the brick wall that was Matt Harvey and and the Mets pitching staff.

The 2018 Brewers are not — and should not be — a surprise. Anybody who was caught off guard by this team being so good hasn't been paying much attention. The Brewers were leading the NL Central in 2017 for much of the year before a late-season fade that coincided with the Cubs' late-season surge.

This Milwaukee squad was always supposed to be one of the top teams in the NL in 2018 and they really hit their groove in September to chase down the Cubs. Still, it took a Game 163 to force a changing of the guard atop the division.

2. They greatly improved expectations with a big free-agent OF signing over the winter.

The Cubs had Jason Heyward in between 2015 and '16. The Brewers had Lorenzo Cain.

Cain has provided quite a bit more offense in the first season of his 5-year, $80 million contract but both Cain and Heyward provided leadership in the clubhouse and elite defense in the outfield in the first years with their new teams.

3. The Brewers have the NL MVP.

This one's an easy comparison to make, though Cubs fans will hate it.

Christian Yelich is this season's NL MVP. Sorry, Javy Baez fans. "El Mago" had a great season, but it's impossible to give the award to anybody but Yelich.

Yelich winning the league's most coveted accolade would be another perfect tie-in to the 2016 Cubs, who had Kris Bryant take home NL MVP.

4. They have a dominant LHP out of the bullpen.

Josh Hader has been doing his best Aroldis Chapman impression in 2018 as an absolutely dominant southpaw out of the bullpen. Unlike Chapman, Hader's spent all season with the Brewers, but like Chapman in '16, Hader will be leaned on heavily for multiple innings throughout the rest of the playoffs.

5. They picked up some valuable in-season assets.

The 2016 Cubs dealt for Chapman, but they also traded for reliever Joe Smith and called up Willson Contreras in the middle of the year, who provided a spark for the offense.

The 2018 Brewers have acquired plenty of valuable assets along the way this season from Mike Moustakas to Jonathan Schoop to Erik Kratz (more on him later) to Gio Gonzalez. But one of their most important additions (especially in October) was the promotion of top prospect Corbin Burnes, a flame-throwing right-hander who posted a 2.61 ERA in 30 regular-season games and allowed only 1 hit in 4 shutout innings in the DS.

6. They're on a mission with a chip on their shoulder.

The 2015 Cubs had a little bit of a chip on their shoulder as they attempted to take down the divisional powerhouse that was the St. Louis Cardinals. But again, they were a surprise contender - even within that clubhouse (especially early in 2015). But after falling short in the NLCS, the Cubs retooled over the winter and came back with one goal in mind - to win the World Series.

It was a goal they accomplished. We'll see if the Brewers will be able to do the same, but they certainly came to play in 2018 with a chip on their shoulder and the ultimate goal of winning the final MLB game of the year.

The Brewers didn't lead the division from Day 1 and weren't able to coast into October, but they still wound up with homefield advantage throughout the NL playoffs.

7. They have journeyman catcher who is winning over fans' hearts.

This is a fun one.

The 2016 Cubs had David "Grandpa" Rossy who still elicts deafening cheers whenever he's shown on the giant video board at Wrigley Field. The 2018 Brewers have Kratz, who has become a fan favorite recently and was mic'd up for the final out of the NLDS.

Ross was 39 when he helped lead the Cubs to the 2016 World Series and Chicago was his eighth stop (seventh different team) along his MLB journey. Kratz is 38 and on his ninth stop (seventh different team) along his MLB journey.

In fact, Ross and Kratz are so intertwined, they've already been compared to each other by MLB.com.

But the major difference is Kratz has zero postseason playing experience until a week ago. Will he be able to ride off into the sunset with a championship ring on his finger the way Ross did?

We'll have an answer to that over the next few weeks in the final chapter of the Brewers' 2018 season, though Cubs fans surely wouldn't be too happy to see their division rivals celebrating with a World Series parade just 90 minutes north of Wrigley Field.

Cubs bench coach Brandon Hyde interviewed for Rangers' manager opening

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USA TODAY

Cubs bench coach Brandon Hyde interviewed for Rangers' manager opening

The Cubs just lost one coach with hitting coach Chili Davis getting fired. Another opening on Joe Maddon's coaching staff could also open up.

According to report from MLB.com's T.R. Sullivan, bench coach Brandon Hyde interviewed with the Rangers on Thursday.

Rangers farm director Jayce Tingler was the first candidate the club interviewed, but Hyde and Astros bench coach Joe Espada were also interviewed.

The 45-year-old Hyde has been with the Cubs since 2014. He was a bench coach in 2014 under Rick Renteria before moving to first base coach from 2015-17. This past season he moved back to his original role as bench coach.

He played four seasons in the minors for the White Sox.

The Rangers job opened up when Jeff Banister was fired on Sept. 21. Banister won AL Manager of the Year in 2015 and guided the Rangers to back-to-back playoff appearances in 2015 and 2016, but couldn't get out of the ALDS either year. A 78-84 season in 2017 was followed by an even worse 2018, which led to his firing late this season.