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."

Why Cubs core's desire to sign extensions might not matter anymore

Why Cubs core's desire to sign extensions might not matter anymore

The day after Kris Bryant suggested that first-time fatherhood and the dramatic reality of world events have changed how he looks at his future with the Cubs, general manager Jed Hoyer outlined why it might be all but moot.

Setting aside the fact that the Cubs aren’t focusing on contract extensions with anyone at this time of health and economic turmoil, the volatility and unpredictability of a raging COVID-19 pandemic in this country and its economic fallout have thrown even mid-range and long-term roster plans into chaos.

“This is without question the most difficult time we’ve ever had as far as projecting those things,” Hoyer said. “All season in projecting this year, you weren’t sure how many games we were going to get in. Projecting next season obviously has challenges, and who knows where the country’s going to be and the economy’s going to be.”

Bryant, a three-time All-Star and former MVP, is eligible for free agency after next season. He and the club have not engaged in extension talks for three years. And those gained little traction while it has looked increasingly likely since then that Bryant’s agent, Scott Boras, would eventually take his star client to market — making Bryant a widely circulated name in trade talks all winter.

MORE: Scott Boras: Why Kris Bryant's free agency won't be impacted by economic crisis

The Cubs instead focused last winter on talks with All-Star shortstop Javy Báez, making “good” or little progress depending on which side you talked to on a given day — until the pandemic shut down everything in March.

Báez, Anthony Rizzo and Kyle Schwarber are both also eligible for free agency after next season, with All-Star catcher Willson Contreras right behind them a year later.

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None has a multiyear contract, and exactly what the Cubs are willing to do about that even if MLB pulls off its 60-game plan this year is hard for even the team’s front office executives to know without knowing how hard the pandemic will continue to hammer America’s health and financial well-being into the winter and next year.

Even with a vaccine and treatments by then, what will job markets look like? The economy at large? The economy of sports? Will anyone want to gather with 40,000 others in a stadium to watch a game anytime soon?

And even if anyone could answer all those questions, who can be sure how the domino effect will impact salary markets for athletes?

“There’s no doubt that forecasting going forward is now much more challenging from a financial standpoint,” Hoyer said. “But that’s league-wide. Anyone that says they have a feel for where the nation’s economy and where the pandemic is come next April is lying.”

The Cubs front office already was in a tenuous place financially, its payroll budget stretched past its limit and a threat to exceed MLB’s luxury tax threshold for a second consecutive season.

And after a quick playoff exit in 2018 followed by the disappointment of missing the playoffs in 2019, every player on the roster was in play for a possible trade over the winter — and even more so at this season’s trade deadline without a strong start to the season.

Now what?

For starters, forget about dumping short-term assets or big contracts for anything of value from somebody’s farm system. Even if baseball can get to this year’s Aug. 31 trade deadline with a league intact and playing, nobody is predicting more than small level trades at that point — certainly not anything close to a blockbuster.

After that, it may not get any clearer for the sport in general, much less the Cubs with their roster and contract dilemmas.

“We have a lot of conversations about it internally, both within the baseball side and then with the business side as well,” Hoyer said. “But it’s going to take a long time and probably some sort of macro things happening for us to really have a good feel for where we’re going to be in ’21 and beyond.”


Cubs GM Jed Hoyer: Everyone in MLB has to take COVID-19 'equally' serious

Cubs GM Jed Hoyer: Everyone in MLB has to take COVID-19 'equally' serious

Veteran umpire Joe West made waves Tuesday downplaying the severity of COVID-19 in an interview with The Athletic’s Ken Rosenthal. 

“I don’t believe in my heart that all these deaths have been from the coronavirus," West said. "I believe it may have contributed to some of the deaths.”

As far as the Cubs are concerned, those comments don’t represent how to treat the virus. In fact, they’ve gone out of their way to ensure everyone treats it with equal severity.

“That’s one of the things we've really tried internally to instill in our players and our coaches,” Cubs general manager Jed Hoyer said Tuesday, “[that] everyone here has to take it equally [serious].”

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Hoyer noted like the world, MLB isn’t immune to people having different viewpoints on the virus — those who show concern and those who don’t. This echoes comments made by manager David Ross earlier on Tuesday, and Hoyer said those he’s talked to with the Cubs don’t feel the same way as West.

The Cubs had an up close and personal look at pitching coach Tommy Hottovy’s battle with COVID-19 during baseball’s shutdown. It took the 38-year-old former big leaguer 30 harrowing days to test negative, and in the past week many Cubs have said watching him go through that hit home. 

“When you get a 38-year-old guy in wonderful health and he talks about his challenges with it,” Hoyer said, “I think that it takes away some of those different viewpoints.”

To ensure everyone stays safe and puts the league in the best position to complete a season, MLB needs strict adherence to its protocols.

“I think that's one of our goals and one of the things that we feel is vital is that we have to make sure everyone views this the same way, because we can't have a subset of people within our group that don't view it with the same severity,” Hoyer said.

“That’s not gonna work. We're not gonna be successful."