Cubs

Kyle Schwarber working on being Cubs' left fielder of the present

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Kyle Schwarber working on being Cubs' left fielder of the present

Kyle Schwarber might still be the Cubs’ catcher of the future, but at the moment, he’s the Cubs’ left fielder of the present.

He did nothing but catch in his brief minor league stint this season, and that’s what he was doing up at the big league level while Miguel Montero was sidelined with an injury. But since Montero’s return, it’s pretty much been left field exclusively for Schwarber, a first-year player who in addition has to get used to hitting and catching as a major league player also has to get used to patrolling the outfield.

Schwarber said it’s been a good transition. He played plenty of left field last year in the minors and as a college player at Indiana University.

“Since Miggy’s back, it’s probably the position I’ll be playing most often,” Schwarber said ahead of Friday’s game against the Braves. “I might get to catch a day here and there, but right now I’m primarily going to be in left field. Played it all last year, mostly. Played about 30-something games out there in a half-season. Then this past year in the minor leagues, I didn’t play it at all until I came up here. So it was getting a little bit of a refresh, working with Davey (Martinez, the Cubs bench coach) and just trying to get the familiarity back. But it’s been a fine transition.”

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Schwarber has played 37 major league games, and 14 of those have come as a left fielder.

It obviously hasn’t impacted his bat, as he’s set the world on fire offensively with a .303/.403/.598 slash line, 10 homers and 31 RBIs in his three dozen games.

But he works on his outfielding all the time. According to his manager, that work has paid off.

“He’s been good, he’s been very good,” Joe Maddon said Friday. “He’s been really calm out there. If you watch him go after a fly ball, it looks like he’s never in trouble. … So for the most part, I think he’s done really well. He’s gone to the wall properly, he’s thrown well — he’s thrown really well, actually. The ball was off the line a little bit, he almost threw out a pretty good runner at second base (in a recent game), but the throw was strong. The throw to the plate (n Tuesday night’s game against the Tigers) was strong. His positioning’s been good, he pays attention. He’s been fine.”

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Schwarber is dealing with different challenges than other outfielders who come up to the bigs for the first time. He plays his home games at Wrigley Field, which creates adventures for outfielders thanks to infamous wind patterns, a foliage-covered brick wall, the odd shape of that wall and the exposed bullpen mounds in foul territory.

Schwarber isn’t making any excuses, though, and he said he’s already mastered some of the angles at the Friendly Confines.

“If the ball’s smoked over your head, it’s probably going to be off the wall. But if it’s hit down the line in the air, you’re going to have a chance. You’ve just got to know your park. The ivy can be a little tricky: Sometimes it’ll spit it out to you, sometimes it’ll drop it right down, sometimes it gets stuck in it. This plays like any other ballpark, really, you’ve just got to know your ballpark.”

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One interesting factor in Schwarber’s play in left is his play behind the plate.

Schwarber said that when he’s in left field, he’s thinking like a catcher. It helps him know what kind of batted balls to expect to come his way. And it keeps him engaged at every instant, too, avoiding that Little League stereotype of the outfielder playing with grass while wearing his glove on his head.

“It helps me, being a catcher. I like to think along with what we’re going to throw,” Schwarber said. “Seeing set-ups can help out. If we set up outside to a left-handed hitter, it might be a good chance that he’s probably going to hit it to my right. And if we set up in, probably a good chance he’ll either hit a shallow fly ball in front of me or he’ll hit it out in the gap. Besides just being bored and just sitting around, I’m always still trying to think.

“I’m always still trying to think along with the game and not be surprised with any situation.”

A series to forget: Facts and figures from Cubs' rough weekend in Cincinnati

A series to forget: Facts and figures from Cubs' rough weekend in Cincinnati

The Cubs and their fans may want to invent and use one of those Men In Black neuralyzers because the four-game series in Cincinnati was one to forget.

The Reds finished off a four-game sweep of the Cubs on Sunday with an 8-6 win. The way the Reds won the finale will be especially painful for the Cubs considering they led 6-1 after six innings. Mike Montgomery appeared to tire in the seventh inning and Pedro Strop got rocked out of the bullpen to lead to a seven-run seventh for the hosts.

The Reds have now won seven in a row and 10 of 12, but still sit 13 games under .500. Bizarrely, the Reds also swept the Dodgers, the Cubs’ next opponent, in a four-game series in May. Duane Underwood will start for the Cubs Monday against the Dodgers and make his major league debut.

Here are some other wild facts and figures from the series:

  • The last time the Reds swept the Cubs in a four-game series was back in 1983. That was the first week of the season and three weeks before the infamous Lee Elia rant.
  • One positive for the Cubs from the game was Montgomery’s start. Through six innings he allowed one run on three hits and two walks. However, he gave up a single, a double and a single in the seventh before Strop relieved him. Montgomery had gone six innings and allowed one run in each of his last four outings.
  • Strop was definitely a negative. On his first pitch, Strop gave up a home run to pinch-hitter Jesse Winker, the second home run for a Reds pinch-hitter in the game. Then Strop allowed a single, a walk, a single and a double before getting an out. Strop’s final line: 2/3 inning pitched, four runs, one strikeout, three walks, four hits.
  • The Cubs led in three of the four games this series, including two leads after five innings.
  • The Cubs were 5-for-23 (.217) with runners in scoring position in the series. On the season the Cubs are hitting .233 with RISP, which is 22nd in the majors and fourth-worst in the National League (but ahead of the division-rival Brewers and Cardinals).
  • The Reds outscored the Cubs 31-13 and scored at least six runs in every game. The Reds are now 6-3 against the Cubs this year after going a combined 17-40 against the Cubs from 2015-2017.

Summer of Sammy: Sosa's 32nd homer in 1998

Summer of Sammy: Sosa's 32nd homer in 1998

It's the 20th anniversary of the Summer of Sammy, when Sosa and Mark McGwire went toe-to-toe in one of the most exciting seasons in American sports history chasing after Roger Maris' home run record. All year, we're going to go homer-by-homer on Sosa's 66 longballs, with highlights and info about each. Enjoy.

Sosa victimized the Tigers pitching staff again on the next night, taking Brian Moehler deep in the 7th inning for a 400-foot solo blast.

The homer tied the game at 3, but the Cubs blew the lead in the bottom of the 7th when the Terrys (Adams and Mulholland) gave up 3 runs. The Cubs wound up losing 6-4.

The Cubs were putting together a really nice season in 1998 that ended with a trip to October. They entered the series with the Tigers with a 42-34 record, yet lost both games to a Detroit team that entered the series with a 28-45 record. The Tigers finished the season 65-94; the Cubs finished 90-73.

Fun fact: Luis Gonzalez was the Tigers left fielder and No. 5 hitter for both games of the series. He spent part of the 1995 season and all of '96 on Chicago's North Side. 1998 was his only year in Detroit before he moved on to Arizona, where he hit 57 homers in 2001 and helped the Diamondbacks to a World Series championship with that famous broken-bat single in Game 7.

Fun fact  No. 2: Remember Pedro Valdes? He only had a cup of coffee with the Cubs (9 games in 1996 and 14 in '98), but started in left field on June 25, 1998. He walked and went 0-for-1 before being removed from the game for a pinch-hitter (Jose Hernandez).