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."

Jake Arrieta getting close and message to Cubs is clear: ‘We can’t expect outside help to get us out of this rut’

Jake Arrieta getting close and message to Cubs is clear: ‘We can’t expect outside help to get us out of this rut’

MIAMI – Kyle Schwarber’s offensive spiral had gone on for so long and gotten so deep that the shock value of sending a potential franchise player to Triple-A quickly wore off once the news broke on Twitter.

The Cubs sent their message directly to Schwarber. Even if the bosses wanted to, the Cubs couldn’t put the rest of the clubhouse on edge by demoting a .171 hitter with 260-plus plate appearances in late June. 
 
The Cubs are in survival mode, not a position to play mind tricks, beginning an 11-games-in-11-days road trip with World Series MVP Ben Zobrist (left wrist inflammation), Gold Glove outfielder Jason Heyward (left hand abrasion) and Cy Young Award finalist Kyle Hendricks (right hand tendinitis) all on the disabled list.   

Whether or not the big trade for a frontline pitcher happens, there are still five-plus weeks left until teams feel the urgency of a deadline.   

“If something presents itself that makes sense, we’ll certainly jump on it,” general manager Jed Hoyer said over the phone before an 11-1 win at Marlins Park. “But to us, the answers are in that clubhouse. We can’t expect outside help to get us out of this rut. The answers are in there, and we believe in those guys. 

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“Will we be active? No question. But that’s not going to happen for a while and there’s a lot of games to be played between now and July 31.”  

The Cubs (37-35) aren’t booking Schwarber’s trip to Iowa so he can be converted into a pitcher. An aging, stressed rotation remains a much bigger concern than the boom-and-bust periods with a young offense. 

Kris Bryant unleashed an MVP swing when he launched a three-run homer into the left-center field patio deck. All-Star shortstop Addison Russell just missed hitting for the cycle while rookie Ian Happ (this year’s Schwarber) also went 4-for-5. Young catcher Willson Contreras blasted his seventh home run.

More importantly, Jake Arrieta looked more like himself, limiting the Marlins to one run across seven innings.

“Interesting, isn’t it?” manager Joe Maddon said. “The biggest thing for us to really do well is to pitch well, because you can’t anticipate scoring a ton of runs without this group involved. You shouldn’t. That’s a bad assumption on my part. So you probably have to take more chances defensively. Your pitching staff – you really got to try to draw out of them as much as you possibly can.”  

Did Cubs start the tailspin by making Kyle Schwarber their leadoff guy?

Did Cubs start the tailspin by making Kyle Schwarber their leadoff guy?

MIAMI – Everything aligned for the Cubs to make Kyle Schwarber their leadoff hitter. Joe Maddon’s gut instincts told him to do it – so the manager asked the Geek Department to run the numbers – and the projections backed him up. A front office raised on Bill James principles endorsed the idea after Dexter Fowler took an offer he couldn’t refuse – five years and $82.5 million – from the St. Louis Cardinals.
   
It all looked good on paper and sounded reasonable in theory. But by the time the Cubs made the Schwarber-to-Iowa move official before Thursday’s game at Marlins Park, the slugger once compared to Babe Ruth in a pre-draft scouting report had devolved into the qualified hitter with the lowest batting average in the majors (.171) and an .OPS 75 points below the league average.  

If Schwarber had been batting, say, sixth since Opening Day, would the Cubs be in a different spot right now?   

“Obviously, I can’t answer that,” general manager Jed Hoyer said. “It’s an impossible question to answer. We put him in a leadoff position and he struggled. We obviously moved him out of that position (and) that didn’t work either. I know that’s what people are going to point to, because that’s a variable in his career. 

“Obviously, hitting him leadoff in 2017 didn’t work. Whether or not it caused the tailspin, I have no way to answer that question.”   

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The Cubs also deserve credit for: drafting Schwarber when the industry viewed him as a reach with the No. 4 overall pick in 2014; fast-tracking his development to the point where he could help the 2015 team win 97 games and two playoff rounds; and overseeing a rehab process that allowed him to be a World Series designated hitter less than seven months after reconstructive surgery on his left knee.    
 
The Cubs will have their hitting instructors give Schwarber subtle suggestions, focusing on how he starts his swing and where he finishes, trying to reestablish his balance and confidence during this Triple-A timeout.
    
But deep down, this is a 24-year-old player who never experienced a full season in the big leagues before and wanted so bad to be a huge part of The Cubs Way.

“I do think a lot of the problems are mental,” Hoyer said. “These struggles have kind of beaten him up a little bit. Like anyone would, he’s lost a little bit of his swagger, and I think he needs to get that back. But I think when you look at what a great fastball hitter he’s been – how good he was in ’15, how good he was last year in the World Series – the fact that he hasn’t been pounding fastballs this year is a mechanical/physical issue that we’ll be looking to tweak. 

“This is a guy that has always murdered fastballs and he’s not there right now.”