Cubs

Kyle Schwarber's grand slam fuels Cubs' comeback over Cardinals

Kyle Schwarber's grand slam fuels Cubs' comeback over Cardinals

Kyle Schwarber’s first career grand slam came at a perfect time.

The Cubs slugger crushed an opposite field grand slam in the seventh inning to power the Cubs past the St. Louis Cardinals, 5-3, on Saturday afternoon at Wrigley Field. Schwarber’s grand slam was his ninth home run of the season.

"Obviously, it was nice to come up in that spot and be able to help out," Schwarber said. "It’s kind of a sigh of relief because I want to go up there and I want to help my team. For me to do that today was great."

In a season that hasn't gone Schwarber's way so far, his confidence is still intact, especially after a big win against a division-rival.

"You’ve just got to stay the course," Schwarber said. "You’ve got to know that you’re here for a reason. That’s half the battle is knowing that you’re a good player, and more than half of this game is mental.

"I always try to stay as positive and mentally strong as I can be because I know how crazy this game is. It can put you at your highest highs and your lowest lows, and you’ve just got to be able to stay the same person."

Prior to Saturday's game, Joe Maddon moved the struggling Schwarber to the ninth spot after the Cubs manager "hated" what he saw on Friday hitting seventh.

Maddon personally called Schwarber after Friday's game to explain that he wanted the 24-year-old to hit last, essentially becoming another leadoff man with Jon Lester batting eighth. It worked on Saturday, as Schwarber delivered in the clutch to help give his team a win.

"He told me his reason, and I was like, 'all right,'" Schwarber said. "I’m going with it. Whatever the skipper does, I’m going to follow it. We’ve got his back, he’s got our back. It’s all a process. It worked out today."

Maddon plans to keep Schwarber in the ninth spot for Sunday's series finale.

Lester, who started the game on extra day's rest, struggled with his command early, allowing two walks and a single to the first three batters of the game, which loaded the bases. Cardinals' Jose Martinez followed with a single, which scored two.

Again in the second, the Cubs ace allowed the first to batters to reach base with back-to-back singles, but the Cubs left the inning unscathed.

Javier Baez cut the Cubs' deficit in half in the third when he belted with a solo homer to center field, his ninth of the season. Yadier Molina answered and got the Cardinals' run back when he homered in the sixth inning to give the opposing team a 3-1 lead.

In the seventh, Jason Heyward and Willson Contreras kicked things off with back-to-back singles of their own. After a Javier Baez strike out, Jon Jay was beamed, loading the bases for Schwarber, who went deep on the first pitch he saw to give the Cubs a 5-3 lead and secure the win.

Schwarber has received his fair share of criticism because of his struggles, but "it's big" that he has the support of his teammates. 

"It’s easy to kick a guy to the curb, seeing the numbers like that. It has been a big support system with the fans, to the players, to our manager, to our coaching staff, front office, everything," Schwarber said. "It’s really big. You can definitely go home and feel even worse if they didn’t treat me the way that they did, but they’re all here to pick us up, and that’s kind of how our team is.

"We’re going to pick each other up."

When Schwarber was heading in the dugout following his grand slam, Maddon said his hand hurt after Schwarber put some extra juice into his high-five.

"Yeah, I gave him a little extra," Schwarber said. "It was an exciting moment, it was a big moment. To put us ahead in that spot and to be able to hold those guys off and come out with a win was big."

Schwarber said that he had actually been wanting to hit a ball hard to the opposite field. He did just that. Now, he wants to take the momentum and ride with it. 

"Hopefully, this was a good sign today," Schwarber said. "I’m just going to keep with the course, working with (John Mallee) and everything like that. I’m feeling good at the plate. Let’s keep it going."

Willson Contreras’ trade value just spiked, thanks to White Sox signing Yasmani Grandal

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USA TODAY

Willson Contreras’ trade value just spiked, thanks to White Sox signing Yasmani Grandal

This is the best thing the White Sox have done for the Cubs in years.

The White Sox made a big splash in free agency Thursday, signing catcher Yasmani Grandal to a four-year, $73 million contract. Grandal joins the South Siders from the Brewers, where he played an integral role in Milwaukee making a second-straight postseason appearance in 2019.

Grandal led qualified catchers in on-base percentage (.380) last season, also posting career highs in home runs (28) and RBIs (77). He’s also an excellent pitch framer, tying for fourth in RszC (runs saved by catcher framing) among all catchers with 9.

Milwaukee’s payroll reached a franchise-high $122.5 million in 2019 and their farm system (No. 29 in MLB, per Baseball America) is lacking. How they replace Grandal’s production is a major question mark, which in turn is a win for the Cubs this offseason.

But besides plucking him from the NL Central, the White Sox signing Grandal early in the offseason helps the Cubs, who have important decisions of their own to make.

Although Cubs president Theo Epstein said to take any trade rumors with a “mouthful of salt,” multiple teams believe catcher Willson Contreras is available for trade. The Cubs need to retool their roster and replenish a farm system that has been depleted in recent seasons from numerous “win now” trades.

The Cubs and White Sox made the notorious José Quintana trade in July 2017, but it’s unlikely the two would have matched up for a Contreras trade. The Cubs need young assets; trading away young assets is the last thing the White Sox want to do as their championship window opens.

So, Grandal landed with a team that was unlikely to be involved in any potential Contreras trade talks. Grandal was the best free agent catcher; Contreras is the best catcher that can be had in a trade.

Other teams interested in Grandal — such as the Reds — can no longer turn to him in free agency. The Rays have made addressing the catcher spot this winter a priority, but they have one of MLB’s lowest payrolls each season. Signing Grandal wasn’t going to happen, but Tampa Bay has the farm system (No. 2 in baseball, per MLB.com) to make a big trade.

Contreras is the best catcher available — for the right price, obviously — so the ball is in the Cubs' court. They don’t get better by dealing their two-time All-Star backstop, but Contreras’ trade value is high. With Grandal off the market, it just got even higher.

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Cubs add four players to 40-man roster ahead of Rule 5 Draft, including top prospect Miguel Amaya

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MiLB

Cubs add four players to 40-man roster ahead of Rule 5 Draft, including top prospect Miguel Amaya

In preparation for next month’s Rule 5 Draft, the Cubs have added four players to their 40-man roster. 

Wednesday, the Cubs selected the contracts of right-hander Tyson Miller and infielder Zack Short from Triple-A Iowa and right-hander Manuel Rodriguez and catcher Miguel Amaya from Single-A Myrtle Beach. The Cubs 40-man roster now stands at 36 players.

The Rule 5 Draft is Dec. 12 at the Winter Meetings. Teams can “draft” players from other organizations if that player is not on a 40-man roster and also matches one of the following criteria:

-If the player was signed when they were 19 or older, they must have at least four years of professional baseball experience

OR

-If the player was signed when they were 18, they must have at least five years of professional baseball experience.

Miller is a fourth-round draft pick from 2016. He went 7-8 with a 4.35 ERA in 26 starts between Double-A Tennessee and Iowa in 2019. The 24-year-old was much better with Tennessee (2.56 ERA, 15 starts) than with Iowa in the hitter-friendly Pacific Coast League (7.58 ERA, 11 starts).

The Cubs drafted Short, 24, in the 17th round in 2016; he can play shortstop, second base and third base. He gets on base at a decent clip (career .377 OBP) but hasn’t had much success offensively (.241 career average) in his four minor league seasons.

The Cubs signed Rodriguez, 23, to a minor league deal in July 2016. He posted a 3.45 ERA in 35 relief appearance with Myrtle Beach in 2019, faring much better than he did in 2018 with Single-A South Bend (7.59 ERA, 32 appearances).

Amaya is the Cubs' No. 2 prospect and No. 90 overall in MLB (per MLB Pipeline). The Cubs signed him during the international signing period in July 2015, giving him a $1.25 million signing bonus. The 20-year-old posted a .235/.351/.402 slash line in 99 games with Myrtle Beach in 2019. His OPS jumped from .714 in the first half to .790 in the second half.

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