Kyle Schwarber damages Wrigley video board as order is restored in Cubs universe

Kyle Schwarber damages Wrigley video board as order is restored in Cubs universe

This is an oversimplification. And sometimes only the loudest voices get heard on social media. But where so many Cubs fans and enough of the Chicago media put blind faith and absolute trust into the rebuilding years, there now seems to be some general skepticism and a when-is-it-time-to-panic countdown.

Don’t mean to spoil the ending of David Ross’ new book, but the Cubs won the World Series.

Last year is over, but the Cubs still have an explosive collection of hitters, a playoff-tested rotation, a significantly better bullpen and money/prospects to spend at the trade deadline.

[CubsTalk Podcast: Jason McLeod on Ian Happ, Dylan Cease and MLB Draft]

The signs even showed up before Wednesday’s 7-5 win over the Cincinnati Reds, when Kyle Schwarber crushed a ball in batting practice and knocked out part of the lighting for the Budweiser script atop a Wrigley Field video board.

“I hope I won’t get the bill,” Schwarber said. “It had some wind behind it, I guess, and got up there, and you could see some wires fall. I apologize in advance.”

Schwarber damaged the first two letters and part of the “d” out in right field, or roughly the same spot where one of his home-run balls landed during the 2015 playoffs. If Schwarber doesn’t have a Budweiser deal yet, “I should,” he joked.

If you needed another reality check and a reminder of the uncertainty the Cubs used to face, Scott Feldman stood 6-foot-6 on the mound in a gray uniform. This is the answer to the trivia question, the sign-and-flip guy traded along with Steve Clevenger to the Baltimore Orioles for Jake Arrieta and Pedro Strop in the middle of a 96-loss season in 2013.

The Cubs knocked out Feldman in the third inning, pushing their record to one game above .500 and seeing the correction they predicted. Except for Ian Happ, the Cubs don’t have that many other cards left to play in the middle of May. And manager Joe Maddon doesn’t really think about the point where he would start doing things differently.

“It would have to take a lot, honestly, because they’re so young,” Maddon said. “This is our World Series group and this is our future group. So part of it is you have to understand they have to feel confidence and consistency from me and the organization.

“If you just start haphazardly picking names out of a hat or trying to create a different method when it’s really not necessary — that’s what you have to be careful about.

“When you have young guys in this position, the big picture would be that you would not want to influence or dent their confidence in any way or have them lose faith in you.

“There’s a lot of patience from me right now for the whole group. This is our group. And they’re going to keep getting better.”

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After all the noise about whether or not Maddon should stick with Schwarber (.188 average) at the leadoff spot, he ignited the five-run burst off Feldman in the second inning when he smashed a two-out, two-run, bases-loaded single past Reds first baseman Joey Votto.

“It’s really hard for human beings to process a 162-game season and see it in its entirety, see it from 10,000 feet,” team president Theo Epstein said. “The game wouldn’t be as fun if you could do that. I remember right around this time last year we were 25-6 and I was getting asked non-sarcastic questions about how are we going to manage the push for the greatest record of all-time vs. resting our guys for the playoffs. I called BS on that.

“And now I’m getting asked about if we’re going to send everyday guys down to Triple-A. (And) I was asked by someone else if we were going to consider selling and things like that. So I call BS on that, too.”

On an 83-degree night with 24-mph winds gusting, Kyle Hendricks again looked like the guy who impersonated Greg Maddux and led the majors in ERA last season. Hendricks is 2-1 with a 1.82 ERA in his last five starts after limiting the Reds (19-20) to two runs across six innings. The rotation is beginning to trend in the right direction and that is how the Cubs will take off from 20-19.

“Ultimately, you are how you play over the course of a season,” Epstein said. “But you also have to look at the amount of talent on a club and whether you trust their makeup and whether they care and whether you think we’re going to reach our level, because we’re going to work really hard to make adjustments and overcome whatever adversity is presented us.

“I don’t want to sound like I’m blind to what’s gone on or sort of like overly faithful in certain guys. (But) you also have to trust what you believe about players and what you see and understand the season is 162 games for a reason, because it tends to be a meritocracy.”

The Cubs are also getting under people’s skin again. After another stress-free ninth inning ended for Wade Davis (9-for-9 in save chances, zero earned runs in 18 appearances) with an overturned replay call, Reds manager Bryan Price had this to say to reporters:

“Two teams are trying to win that game. As much as it’s ‘Hail to the Cubs’ and they’re the World Series champs and they’re great, we’re trying to win the ballgame, too. Until I see that, I’m going to be more than upset. That's not a way to end a ballgame, unless they can show us something that's definitive. If they can't, shame on them."

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Kris Bryant ignites World Series nostalgia with Cubs' epic eighth-inning comeback

Kris Bryant ignites World Series nostalgia with Cubs' epic eighth-inning comeback

“Reminded me a lot of a play in the World Series.”

Kris Bryant wasn’t the only one with World Series nostalgia Saturday afternoon at the Friendly Confines. The tens of thousands of Cubs fans losing their minds over the North Siders’ eighth-inning comeback made that very clear.

Bryant, though, was the one who provided it, first driving in the game-tying run mere moments after the visiting St. Louis Cardinals smashed open a pitchers duel with back-to-back homers off Jon Lester in the top of the eighth. Bryant then got a head starts and came around all the way from first, scoring the game-winning run on a ball Anthony Rizzo dumped into the left-center field gap so perfectly he couldn’t have thrown it there any better.

Bryant slid in — feet first — beating the throw home from ex-teammate Dexter Fowler. Cue the hysteria at Clark and Addison.

“Me, honestly, I was just trying to go up the middle. I think that’s kind of where I’ve been struggling this year is with guys on base I want to do too much. Just seeing through the middle. Bat broke and flew, I don’t know where it went, but it flew somewhere. That was huge,” Bryant explained after the game.

“And then obviously with Rizz having a good at-bat off a tough lefty. I don't know if Dexter or Tommy Pham got a good read or if they were way back at the track, but right when he hit it I didn’t see them anywhere close to it so I thought there was a pretty good chance that I could score.”

Bryant’s very presence in the Cubs’ starting lineup was the headline before the game, the “freak of nature” returning from a jammed finger after missing only one game. So of course it was the reigning National League MVP who played the biggest role, flipping the script from his sick day by being right in the middle of the Cubs’ eighth-inning explosion. It was the eighth inning where the Cardinals staged their game-defining rally Friday.

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Manager Joe Maddon went as far as saying that perhaps only Bryant could have made the play he did, scoring from first base on what went down as a Rizzo double.

“KB being able to play was the difference in today’s game,” Maddon said. “A combination of the hit and his speed. I don’t think anybody else scores on that. Maybe Jason (Heyward), possibly. (Ian) Happ, possibly. But KB is such a good base runner. He had it in his head the moment the ball was hit, and all (third base coach Gary) Jones had to do was wave his arm. You can’t underestimate the importance of one person in the lineup.

“He’s a very bright base runner. He’s shown that from the beginning. … He demonstrated that early on, and for me when a young player demonstrates awareness on the bases, man, that’s a good baseball player.”

All that talent made Bryant last season’s Most Valuable Player and one of the most important figures in the curse-breaking World Series championship.

Bryant mentioned he thought Saturday’s game-winning trip from first to home conjured memories of a similar play in Game 7 of last fall’s World Series, when Bryant went first to home on Rizzo’s base hit off Andrew Miller in the fifth inning.

“Reminded me a lot of a play in the World Series off of Andrew Miller. It was a full count there, started early,” Bryant said. “Rizz hit it, you’ve got to give him a ton of credit, worked a great at-bat. But the head start really does help. It's something that I take pride in is my base running, surprising people. Hopefully I did that today.”

With Bryant back in the lineup Saturday, Kyle Hendricks’ return to the rotation coming Monday, a now 7-1 record since the All-Star break and a bunched-up NL Central that had four teams within three and a half games of each other entering Saturday’s action, it’s no wonder the World Series feeling is making its way back to the North Side.

All season long, fans and observers have been waiting for that switch to flip, and maybe it finally has.

The bats were thunderous on that six-game road trip out of the All-Star break, with 16 home runs helping the Cubs to back-to-back sweeps of the Baltimore Orioles and Atlanta Braves. Friday’s loss to the Cardinals provided plenty of evidence that the rest of the season might feature a knock-down, drag-out slugfest between the four NL Central contenders. All that was missing was a game that got Wrigleyville rocking.

“Probably one of our better wins of the year,” Bryant said.

That’s all without even mentioning the efforts of Lester, who was perfect until Adam Wainwright’s single in the top of the sixth. It was another stellar effort from a Cubs starting pitcher, and what was the team’s biggest problem during that sub-.500 first half — inconsistent starting pitching — certainly seems to be ironed out.

While the standings say it’s still going to be a brawl to the end with the Cardinals, Milwaukee Brewers and Pittsburgh Pirates, the Cubs could be in a first-place tie by the end of Saturday night.

In other words, the race is on. And Bryant and the Cubs are clicking at the right time.

“It’s already Jaugust,” Maddon joked, inventing a new month out of thin air. “There’s no waiting around right now. Everybody feels the same way. We took advantage of the break, I believe. We came back with renewed energy. You don’t want to give up anything right now.”