Why Cubs believe Kyle Schwarber is ready to do damage again: 'I'm not a pouter'

Why Cubs believe Kyle Schwarber is ready to do damage again: 'I'm not a pouter'

In some ways, it felt like Kyle Schwarber never left.

Schwarber’s image loomed in New Era advertisements on the Wrigley Field video boards, the team store at the stadium’s Waveland Avenue entrance and on the side of Clark Street Sports. Schwarber Watch ran for multiple news cycles during his 11-game sabbatical with Triple-A Iowa.

The Cubs remained the same underachieving team: 36-35 on June 21 when Schwarber was told to take a few days off to decompress before reporting to Des Moines — and 42-42 when he walked back through the clubhouse on Thursday at 10:15 a.m.

Wearing jeans, cowboy boots and a camouflage hat, Schwarber dropped his backpack at his locker, where more than a dozen media types loitered, waiting around for the optimistic sound bites. Schwarber gave Ben Zobrist a bear hug and playfully punched Willson Contreras in the stomach, all smiles around guys who wouldn’t have that World Series ring without him.

“I’m not a pouter,” Schwarber said with a laugh before going 0-for-4 with two strikeouts in an 11-2 loss to the Milwaukee Brewers that had none of the bounce the Cubs hoped for. “I’m pretty dang confident in myself. I’ve overcome a lot of different things.

“I feel like that was a really big learning experience for me. Now knowing what I have to do to get back — if things start going wrong again, whatever it is — I feel really confident.”

The doubts still crept in as Schwarber stunningly withered from playoff legend the last two Octobers (and part of November) into one of the worst hitters in the big leagues this season (.171 average, .673 OPS) for a majorly disappointing team.

“When the guys look up at the scoreboard, you see all these numbers,” manager Joe Maddon said. “It’s impactful when you see your number being so low and you want to get it back by next Wednesday. And it’s not going to be done by next Wednesday, so you start trying to do more and more and more, where it’s really appropriate to try and do less.

“‘Try easier’ is a really good phrase. It’s really difficult to get highly competitive young players to try easier at times. But that’s exactly what he needs to do.”

Where the Cubs completely overhauled Jason Heyward’s swing during the offseason, team president Theo Epstein framed Schwarber’s program as “more about a reset for him than it was a rebuilding.”

“Everything got a little bit too big for me,” Schwarber said, talking specifically about his mechanics and not the post-World Series victory lap and all the off-the-field attention the 2016 Cubs have enjoyed. “Just my moves and everything like that.

“It wasn’t drastic. It was just being able to focus on some little things. I was just missing my pitch. It’s being able to shorten things down and now get back on my pitch. It’s feeling good.”

[CUBS TICKETS: Get your seats right here]

Schwarber didn’t just lose all this talent overnight, the skills that made him the No. 4 overall pick in the 2014 draft, a monster hitter for a 97-win team in 2015 and the World Series X-factor coming back from major knee surgery. The Cubs also realize that a good run with Iowa — 12-for-35 with four homers and eight walks — won’t suddenly change everything back to the way it was.

“His body language is more typical of what we’ve seen,” Epstein said. “When he’s right, he’s kind of stalking the pitcher from the on-deck circle. He controls the at-bat from the batter’s box. And that’s what we’ve seen down there.

“Obviously, it’s baseball. You’re not necessarily going to see results right away and that’s not what we’re asking of him. Just a consistent approach and maintaining confidence and a positive attitude — which he has right now — and we know the results will come eventually.”

The Cubs are running out of buttons to push and levers to pull here, once again hoping “The Legend of Schwarber” can help save them, the way he delivered in the 2015 playoffs and an epic World Series.

“He’s a big part of our culture here,” Maddon said. “He’s a highly accountable young man. He knew he needed it. He was probably kind of expecting it in advance. It was probably somewhat of a relief, just being able to do that, so you could go there, away from the maddening crowd, and attempt to get yourself back together.”

2020 MLB schedule: Chicago Cubs, White Sox could benefit from short trips

2020 MLB schedule: Chicago Cubs, White Sox could benefit from short trips

Both the Cubs and White Sox may benefit this season from the unique MLB schedule which will have all clubs play regionally, instead of across their leagues. Since the A.L. Central and N.L. Central teams are all fairly close, and Chicago is practically in the middle of the action, both the Sox and Cubs will rank near the bottom for miles traveled over the course of the regular season, according to MLB Network.

Click to download the MyTeams App for the latest White Sox news and analysis.

During their 2020 schedule release show, MLB Network displayed a graphic saying the Cubs will travel the second-fewest miles at 4,071 and the White Sox will travel sixth-fewest at 4,750 miles. It’s important to note that may not give them an edge in the regular season, as the other teams to round out the list are all Central division opponents as well: the Brewers, Tigers, Cardinals and Reds.

But when it comes time for the playoffs, that rest may pay off-- especially if either team faces off against a team from the West. All of the top-five teams for most miles traveled come from the A.L. and N.L. West, ranging from 11,332 miles traveled for the Rockies to a whopping 14,706 miles traveled for the Rangers. In a condensed season, with significantly less rest, that long travel could take a toll.

RELATED: White Sox schedule release: Slow start not an option with brutal first week


2020 Cubs schedule features six games against White Sox: 'It’s exciting, right?'

2020 Cubs schedule features six games against White Sox: 'It’s exciting, right?'

Imagine it’s late September. The Cubs have already hosted the White Sox for three unforgettable games at Wrigley Field — fans packed the rooftops (at 25 percent capacity) around the ballpark. Now, it’s time to head to the South Side for the final series of the season, rife with playoff implications.

If the coronavirus pandemic doesn’t derail the 2020 MLB season, that scene very well could become a reality.

The Cubs regular season schedule, which MLB released Monday, features six Crosstown Classic games. The first of two series between the Chicago teams runs Aug. 21-23 at Wrigley Field. The second is penciled in for Sept. 25-27 at Guaranteed Rate Field. Both three-game series include Friday and Saturday evening games, and end with a Sunday afternoon game.

The Crosstown rivalry consumes 1/10 of the Cubs schedule this shortened season.

“It’s exciting, right?” Cubs manager David Ross said.

And quite convenient. That’s the point of a regionally-based schedule, which has the Cubs facing only NL Central and AL Central teams. While trying to limit the spread of COVID-19, that convenience becomes especially important.

“We get to sleep in our own beds at night,” Ross said of the Crosstown Classic. “We can set up things where if we need to we can work out here and drive over like you would in an Arizona spring training. There’s a lot of options that we have for us that we can do with an in-town team. I feel like that’s definitely a luxury.”

Some of those same advantages apply to the Cubs’ games at Milwaukee as well. As is the case with all their division rivals, the Cubs are scheduled to play the Brewers 10 times, including opening day at Wrigley Field on July 24.

As for their mid-September series at Milwaukee: “Players have the ability to drive up day of the game, drive back afterwards or get a car back,” Ross said. “There’s a lot of freedom and comfort in sleeping in your own bed, especially in the scenarios we’re in this year.”

The Cubs’ setup with the White Sox is mirrored over in Missouri between the Cardinals and Royals; they will also play each other six times. The Cubs will play three or four games against each of the four other teams in the AL Central. The White Sox are expected to be a stauncher opponent than the Royals, automatically giving the Cubs a tougher route through their interleague schedule.

But that’s a small price to pay for six rivalry games in Chicago.