Why Cubs love the idea of Kyle Schwarber creating havoc as their leadoff guy

Why Cubs love the idea of Kyle Schwarber creating havoc as their leadoff guy

MESA, Ariz. — Kyle Schwarber became an instant attraction at Wrigley Field because he smashes baseballs and looks like the kind of dude who would crush beer cans against his forehead.

Superstitious Cubs fans can also relate to this pregame ritual that sums up Schwarber's somewhat goofy personality (show choir in high school), linebacker mentality (second-team all-Ohio) and potential to do damage as an unconventional leadoff hitter (1.178 career postseason OPS).

Sometime during Schwarber's rookie year – his first full season in professional baseball — he began stomping on the lineup card before first pitch as a way to fire up/entertain the Cubs in the dugout.

"I have no clue what started it," Schwarber said, laughing. "I think I took it up one time and maybe I stomped on it. You know, 'Stomp on 'em,' things like that. Then it turned into being an everyday kind of thing.

"Joe (Maddon) was like: 'All right, do it every time now, because we won.' And then we kept winning."

Schwarber gave the Cubs a shot of adrenaline in 2015 and then pulled off a medical miracle last year, recovering from major reconstructive knee surgery within roughly six months, just in time to be the designated hitter against Corey Kluber, Andrew Miller and the Cleveland Indians at Progressive Field.

So you did this in the dugout before Game 7 of the World Series?

"Yes, I stomped on the lineup," Schwarber said. "I don't even know how I came up with it."

First base coach Brandon Hyde — who would often bring the lineup card out to home plate for the exchange and then throw it on the ground for Schwarber — laughed and said: "The legend continues."

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The Geek Department's projections verified Maddon's belief that batting Schwarber leadoff — and slotting the pitcher eighth in front of Albert Almora Jr. or Jon Jay — should generate more offense for the 2017 Cubs than the 808 runs the World Series champs scored last season.

Until that point, the Cubs had reached the 800-run mark only eight times since 1900. Maddon already designed T-shirts with the "Be Uncomfortable" theme. That's the thinking behind the opponent having to deal with Schwarber, reigning National League MVP Kris Bryant and Silver Slugger Anthony Rizzo in the first inning.

"You're not used to facing that kind of guy leading off a game," Kyle Hendricks said. "Especially as starting pitchers, we kind of feel our way into games. But, yeah, when you see him up there, you can't really do it.

"'Schwarbs' will take a cut at the first one, it doesn't really matter. I love it — being on this side."

The prototypical leadoff hitter is vanishing anyway — like the focus on batting average or acceptance of rote bullpen usage — and the Cubs obviously didn't construct a team around the idea of stolen bases.

"That's the whole point," Maddon said. "What do you want? If you have a speed guy that really is a high on-base guy that can create havoc, please, absolutely, by all means.

"If you don't, then what do (you do)? Just because somebody looks like a leadoff hitter? Or somebody thinks he profiles in a method that's just based on what you think and not necessarily what you know? I don't get it.

"I just like (Schwarber's) skill set there, and getting him up there more often, building the bottom of the lineup if we can to possibly feed him a little bit more significantly.

"But what does a leadoff hitter look like anywhere? There's not many of those high on-base percentage, base-stealing types. They just don't exist that often anymore.

"Guys don't want to run as much, because it beats their bodies up. It's not easy to be a 50-bag guy or more, because of what it does to your legs. Or if you're a headfirst guy, what it does to your ribcage, your wrist, your hands.

"You'll see on occasion guys that will go. But not to the level that we used to see with a (Lou) Brock or a (Maury) Wills or (Tim) Raines and all those guys that just went all the time."

Maddon also doesn't want Schwarber — whose less than half-a-season production projects out to 37 homers and 98 RBIs over 162 games — to be diminished in the middle of the order.

"If he's hitting fourth or fifth," Maddon said, "I don't believe he gets pitched at the same as he's going to get pitched at in front of Bryant and Rizzo. I'm really big on that. You've heard me talk about protection in the past. I thought 'Zo' (Ben Zobrist) was the only guy that could help Rizzo if you wanted to stack the guys last year.

"I just think our lineup card going to this other team — they're going to look at that. If Schwarber is kind of without a blanket, they're going to exploit not pitching to him. That's my concern."

Those pitchers might be hearing footsteps: Stomp. Stomp. Stomp.

"I don't want him to change anything," Maddon said. "His DNA is to see pitches, accept walks, work good at-bats. (So) please do not change anything. Just go up there and hit."

Cubs still searching for answers for Tyler Chatwood's puzzling control issues

Cubs still searching for answers for Tyler Chatwood's puzzling control issues

Tyler Chatwood looked to be turning the corner with his control issues, but alas, he and the Cubs aren't so lucky.

After walking only two batters in a solid start in Atlanta last week, Chatwood had taken a big step in the right direction. It was, after all, only the third time he'd walked fewer than 5 batters in an outing this season.

Those control woes reared their ugly heads once again Tuesday night at Wrigley Field in a 10-1 loss to the Indians. Chatwood walked 6 batters and managed to net only 8 outs, getting hammered for 4 runs in the third inning.

"Ugh, it was tough," Maddon said. "The stuff was so good, we just couldn't get a strike."

"It's definitely frustrating," Chatwood said, "because one at-bat, I'll feel really good and the next one, I feel like I'm fighting myself.

"Last time [out], I was able to stay in the rhythm. Tonight, I was kinda battling, rushing rather than staying back, so it's just keeping that feeling and maintaining that."

His season ERA is only 3.74, which looks good until you consider his WHIP is 1.62 and he's walked 40 batters in 45.2 innings with only 41 strikeouts in the process. He now leads baseball in walks per 9 innings.

Chatwood said earlier this month in St. Louis that he's figured out what has led to the startling lack of control and while he didn't elaborate on the mechanical issue, he was working hard at correcting the problem in bullpens.

He's also used the term "fighting myself" at least a dozen times this month alone and it's become a common refrain for his explanation of what's going on. 

"He's got a busy delivery when he throws the baseball," Maddon said. "He's kinda busy what he does with his hands. It's not like he can just change it easily because that's how his arm works, how his body works.

"Sometimes, like you see him the other day, everything's on time and how good it can be and when it's out of sorts a bit, then all of the sudden it becomes shotgun. Ah man, you can see the movement [on his pitches] from the side, how good it is. 

"We gotta harness it somehow. I spoke to him briefly on the bench; I reassured him it's gonna be fine, it's gonna be really good by the end of the year. We gotta figure it out and he knows that. But man, that's good stuff. We just gotta get it in the zone."

Chatwood also admitted part of the problem is mental in that he's trying to force pitches rather than trusting his stuff. He's also gotten into the bad habit of drifting down the mound, though he's not sure when or where he picked up that hitch in his delivery.

Chatwood and Cubs pitching coach Jim Hickey are working on slowing his delivery down to get his arm in the same spot on a more consistent basis.

When the Cubs signed Chatwood over the winter, it was easy to see why.

He just turned 28 in December, his peripherals and a move from hitter-friendly Coors Field foretold a potential leap in performance and his stuff is nasty. Plus, he signed a three-year deal at a relative bargain of $38 million.

Once the Cubs signed Yu Darvish in spring training, you could make the case that Chatwood could be among the best No. 5 starters in baseball.

Nine starts later, the honeymoon period is well over with Chatwood, as he threw only 30 of his 74 pitches for strikes Tuesday night and sent catcher Willson Contreras sailing all around home plate for pitches way out of the zone.

Still, it's clear to see there is some intriguing talent there and the season there is roughly 70 percent of the season remaining before the Cubs make what they hope is another run at the World Series.

"I have a lot of faith," Maddon said. "I know we're gonna reap the rewards, the benefits as he figures this thing out."

Baseball Night in Chicago Podcast: Marlon Byrd discusses his suspensions for PED use and Ozzie Guillen offers a solution to the PED problem

NBC Sports Chicago

Baseball Night in Chicago Podcast: Marlon Byrd discusses his suspensions for PED use and Ozzie Guillen offers a solution to the PED problem

Ozzie Guillen explains why he thinks Manny Machado is a better fit for the Cubs than the White Sox. Plus, Guillen and Marlon Byrd react to 19-year-old Juan Soto hitting a homer in his first at-bat with the Nationals.

Later in the show the guys debate who had the better rants in front of the media: Guillen or Byrd?

Finally, Byrd opens up about his PED suspensions, relates to the guys caught using PEDs now and Guillen offers up a solution to rid baseball of PEDs entirely.

Listen to the full episode at this link or in the embedded player below: