Cubs

Theo Epstein's message from Cubs: 'If anyone wants to sell their Kyle Schwarber stock, we're buying'

Theo Epstein's message from Cubs: 'If anyone wants to sell their Kyle Schwarber stock, we're buying'

Kyle Schwarber walked into Wrigley Field around 12:58 p.m. on Tuesday — or more than six hours before first pitch — to study video of Bronson Arroyo and the Cincinnati Reds bullpen, hit in the cage and go through his normal pregame routine. This had nothing to do with his .179 batting average and says everything about why the Cubs have so much faith in him.

“I always get here around then,” Schwarber said. “It’s just me. I don’t feel like being rushed. I always want to settle in.”

Schwarber isn’t going anywhere and you could already see this kind of 9-5 slugfest coming — a 40-year-old finesse pitcher on the mound, 87-degree weather, 20-mph winds and the defending World Series champs playing a team that lost 94 games and used a No. 2 overall draft pick last year.

President of baseball operations Theo Epstein called it before Schwarber snapped an 0-for-17 streak in the second inning by crushing a 74-mph Arroyo pitch that landed near the top of the right-center field bleachers. The Statcast projections came in at 462 feet and 107.4-mph exit velocity.

“If anyone wants to sell their Kyle Schwarber stock, we’re buying,” Epstein said. “If they want to sell low, we’ll buy low. He’s going to have tremendous production at the end of the year. He’s going to have a lot of big hits to help us win games. It just means there’s a lot of hits out there for the rest of the year.

“He hasn’t gotten on track yet, but we have no doubts that he will.”

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It became personal for Epstein when the Cubs drafted Schwarber and made him untouchable in trade talks last summer, even as he recovered from major surgery on his left knee. It didn’t matter what the rest of the industry thought of the Indiana Hoosier or if it might be perceived as a reach with the fourth overall pick in the 2014 draft or what the best team in baseball needed at the deadline.

Schwarber gave Epstein flashbacks to his time with the Boston Red Sox — a combination of David Ortiz’s left-handed power and Dustin Pedroia’s energy, intensity and clubhouse influence.

So there would be no overreacting to a leadoff guy now hitting .187 after a 2-for-4 night in the middle of May. Schwarber is still among the National League’s top 10 in walks (24) and pitches per plate appearance (4.4) this season — to go with his five career homers in 14 playoff games and unbelievable 7-for-17 comeback during last year’s World Series.

“I don’t blame ‘em,” Schwarber said of the doubters. “I wish that they could feel what I feel. Obviously, I feel terrible when you’re not helping your team or anything like that. But I’m going to go out there every day and I’m going to help my team win. Today was a good day.”

Epstein sounded surprised/annoyed when a reporter asked: At what point does the slump become deep enough — or how long — before you consider the possibility of sending Schwarber to Triple-A Iowa?

“When we feel like that’s the right thing for him and the team,” Epstein said. “When we think he’s not giving himself a chance up there. We don’t think he’s close to that at all. If you look at his (at-bats) lately, there are still some ones where he’s kind of missing heaters that he normally clobbers. But there was a ton of contact this weekend (in St. Louis). I think he’s really close.”

That’s how Epstein views the 19-19 Cubs as a whole — on the verge of a breakout that will overwhelm the blah start to the season. After building the franchise around hitters through draft picks, trades and free agents, Epstein so far only sees Kris Bryant as a “net positive” offensively through mid-May.

“We have a ton of supremely talented offensive players,” Epstein said. “They’re going to reach their level by the end of the year and the numbers on the back of the baseball card are going to look like they always do. So what it tells me is we’re going to have five or six guys get really hot at the same time.

“Like I said with Schwarber, the same applies to the team. If people want to sell low on the Cubs, sell their stock, we’ll buy. We still really believe in this team. We know how good we can — and will — be when we get it locked in.”

What Jose Quintana's injury says about precarious nature of this MLB season

What Jose Quintana's injury says about precarious nature of this MLB season

One more injury or a positive COVID-19 test within the starting rotation, and the Cubs will be in trouble.

Jose Quintana’s thumb injury, which is expected to keep him from throwing for two weeks, called to attention just how precarious the future of every team is this season.

"We had some concerns about our starting pitching depth,” Cubs president of baseball operations Theo Epstein said Thursday. “A freak injury further challenges us in that area, and we have to respond."

 

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Starting pitching is a particularly vulnerable area in general. COVID-19 can affect anyone, even a team’s ace. More reports of positive COVID-19 tests are bound to trickle out now that teams are beginning workouts Friday. And with a three-week Summer Camp expediting the ramp-up process, risk of soft-tissue injury becomes a concern for pitchers in particular.

Add into the mix a microscopic surgery on a lacerated nerve in Quintana’s left thumb – the Cubs announced on Thursday that he suffered the injury while washing dishes – and the Cubs are beginning Summer Camp already shorthanded.

“No one’s going to feel sorry for us,” Epstein said. “This this is a bump in the road that we just have to overcome.”

The baseball season could be cancelled for any number of reasons, safety as judged by the league and government officials being the most important. But MLB also has the power to suspend or cancel the season if the competitive integrity of the season is undermined.

What that means isn’t for Epstein to decide, but he declined to give an opinion on the topic Thursday.

“My understanding of what the standards would be don’t necessarily matter,” Epstein said. “It’s a question for the league. I hope we never get in that situation.”

Injuries always have the power to alter a season. But that’s even more so the case during a 60-game season. At best, Quintana’s injury could delay him a several weeks. At worst, even just a three-month recovery time would wipe out his entire season.

For now, the plan is to replace Quintana with someone like Alec Mills. Assuming Mills does win the starting job, that takes him out of his role as a middle reliever, a bullpen spot Cubs manager David Ross emphasized earlier in the week.

“It’ll be really unrealistic to expect guys to get to maybe 100 or so pitches right out of the shoot,” Ross said on Monday. “That may be a bit of a challenge. … The real important areas for me right now is that swingman, your Alec Mills-types that can give you two or three innings ang get to the back end of the bullpen. Those middle innings if guys aren’t stretched out enough are going to be vitally important.”

The ripple effects from Quintana’s injury aren’t nearly enough to undermine the competitive integrity of the season. But what if several teams have their starting pitching depth dramatically affected by COVID-19? What if those teams include the Dodgers and the Yankees?

Now that MLB has started ramping up for the 2020 season, it’s incentivized to keep the season running. But as the Cubs learned this week, just one dish-washing accident can alter a team’s 2020 outlook.

 

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2020 MLB season: All-Star game canceled, Dodgers awarded 2022 game

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USA TODAY

2020 MLB season: All-Star game canceled, Dodgers awarded 2022 game

Major League Baseball announced Friday they've canceled the 2020 All Star Game, which was scheduled for July 14 at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles.

The Braves are scheduled to host the 2021 Midsummer Classic, so MLB awarded the Dodgers the 2022 game.

"Based on the health circumstances created by the COVID-19 pandemic that are beyond MLB’s control along with governmental directives prohibiting large gatherings, the league determined it is unable to conduct the All-Star Game and its week of surrounding fan activities this year," MLB said in a statement.

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“Once it became clear we were unable to hold this year’s All-Star festivities, we wanted to award the Dodgers with the next available All-Star Game, which is 2022,” MLB commissioner Rob Manfred said in a statement.  “I want to thank the Dodgers organization and the City of Los Angeles for being collaborative partners in the early stages of All-Star preparation and for being patient and understanding in navigating the uncertainty created by the pandemic.  

"The 2022 All-Star celebration promises to be a memorable one with events throughout the city and at picturesque Dodger Stadium.”

California has seen a 92 percent increase in COVID-19 cases this week compared to two weeks ago.

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