Cubs

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."

David Ross indicates no Cubs players have tested positive for COVID-19

David Ross indicates no Cubs players have tested positive for COVID-19

The Cubs appear to be in better position than some teams as they start Summer Camp.

When asked Friday if he feels any anxiety being back at Wrigley Field, Cubs manager David Ross indicated the club has had no players test positive for COVID-19 during intake testing this week. 

Ross told reporters in Friday's Zoom session he didn't see any additional anxiety in the players initially either when it comes to the strangeness of the new protocols.

“And I think it's comforting to know that everybody's clear and, you know, has tested negative.”

Most Cubs players took their tests on Wednesday, but the club is following MLB guidelines and has not confirmed or denied any results. Because it’s not considered a work-related injury, teams cannot announce if a player tests positive for the coronavirus without consent.

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Later in the press conference, Ross was asked if he expects any players not to be at camp Friday, outside of the injured José Quintana.

“We’re not supposed to comment I guess — I think you guys have heard all that — on testing positive or negative or any of that stuff, and so I don't wanna lead into that,” he said. “But I definitely expect everybody to be here. I haven't heard anybody's not going to be here.”

Ross was then asked to clarify if every player is cleared.

“Report times are spread out, so not everybody is actually here,” he said. “But I haven’t heard of anybody from [Cubs head athletic trainer PJ Mainville] that is not gonna be showing up today.”

MLB intends to release broad league-wide testing results as early as Friday — the number of tests conducted and how many came back positive. We've already seen several COVID-related announcements from other teams this week.

Wednesday, the Phillies quietly placed four players on the 10-day injured list. Friday, Indians general manager Chris Antonetti announced outfielder Delino DeShields has tested positive for the coronavirus and is experiencing minor symptoms.

Former Cubs and current Angels manager Joe Maddon said Friday 9-10 players would not be participating in workouts and did not disclose why, suggesting that at least several of them have tested positive.

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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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