Is Kyle Schwarber getting ready to pull another Kyle Schwarber?
MILWAUKEE — The time for bravado, for daring declarations and empty rhetoric, had long passed. If we all know one thing about the 2017 Cubs, it’s that they’re related to the 2016 Cubs in name only. What came easily a year ago has been won this season a single bloody, grueling inch at a time.
So Kyle Schwarber wasn’t about to waste anybody’s time with bold promises about the critical 11-game, regular-season-ending stretch that awaited his team. Standing at his locker before the series opener Thursday against the Brewers, he let the stone-cold truth come out.
“It has been crazy,” he said. “You know how this team is. You don’t know what’s going to happen.”
That applies to eight games against the pesky Brewers and Cardinals and three against the last-place Reds. It applies to a starting rotation that keeps flirting with disastrous injuries. In a broader sense, it applies to a defending World Series champion that has spent nearly an entire season dropping hints that it’s probably some other team’s time to party with the trophy.
Perhaps most of all, it applies to the 24-year-old Schwarber himself.
You want to talk crazy? Let’s consider a guy who has spent much of the season tragically lost at the plate yet, after homering in the second inning, is one long ball away from his 30th of 2017. Care to guess how many Cubs lefties have hit the 30 mark in a season at Schwarber’s age or younger? Anthony Rizzo, that’s how many.
Again looking more broadly, could Schwarber have had a more promising, exciting, maddening and confusing first three years in the big leagues if he tried? He was a Ruthian figure in 2015, a slugger of cartoonish power and potential. He was injured for essentially all of 2016 before a sudden, incredible reappearance in the World Series. And he was a bum in 2017 — Worst. Leadoff. Hitter. Ever. — who earned an overdue demotion to Class AAA.
Yet here he is, in a Cubs uniform — detractors be damned — and always a swing away from something magical. He may never amount to the great player many thought he was destined to be. Then again, if he gets hotter than all get-out as he has in back-to-back early autumns, he could be the hero these wayward Cubs desperately need.
“It has been a crazy few years,” he said. “It’s all about learning. You learn how to fight through the adversity of an injury, then you come out, and you have some struggles and get demoted and learn from that. I’m still progressing. It’s all part of the game. You can’t just shut down on yourself because adversity hits. That’s not me. I love this challenge.”
A year ago at this time, Schwarber was still rehabbing the left knee he’d shredded in April. He spent the season in Chicago, eagerly hanging around teammates when the Cubs were at Wrigley Field and watching games at home on TV when they were away.
“There were a lot of those lonely times where I was like, ‘Man, I really want to play baseball right now,’ ” he said. “Deep down inside, I also felt these guys were just going out there and doing what they did without me. They didn’t need me, but I kind of needed them. I wanted to be there.”
What Schwarber got from teammates — Rizzo, Kris Bryant, Jon Lester, John Lackey, David Ross — went beyond acceptance. They put smiles on his face. Even though he wasn’t playing, he knew they cared.
“So that’s what I’ve tried to do all this year, no matter how I’m playing — put a smile on a guy’s face,” he said. “Because those guys did that for me. They picked me up. My goal in baseball is — No. 1, overall — to be a good teammate.”
If he really wants to be a great teammate, he’ll demonstrate that 400 feet (OK, maybe more like 450) at a time the rest of the way. The signs are there that he might. Schwarber has homered in three consecutive starts and in five of his last nine games.
Here’s crazy for you: How ridiculously fun would it be if Schwarber went and pulled another Schwarber? Talk about putting smiles on faces.
Follow me on Twitter @SLGreenberg.