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Kyle Schwarber could be key to bigger things for Cubs lineup

Front-row ticket for the Cubs’ home opener: $218.

Stadium beer in a plastic cup: $9.

Cubs’ lineup six months after a quick and ugly exit from the playoffs: Bryceless.

It doesn’t have quite the ring to it as, say, “That’s Cub.” Nor does it have much potential for boosting ticket sales.

Schwarber

But as the Cubs open spring training this week in Arizona, it might be how the team is defined this year, unless Harper suddenly shows up on their doorstep in a late-spring shocker or someone else fills the void with a breakthrough 2019.

Someone like Kyle Schwarber?

Could the left-handed power bat and big-stage track record that Bryce Harper won’t be bringing to the Cubs’ outfield
instead be provided by Schwarber?

“There’s no question that he could be one of those generational talents that just goes off,” teammate Ian Happ said. “I think the beauty of our team is that we have so many guys who can be that good and play that well.

“That’s why there haven’t been those moves, because we have that good of a team.”

That’s the idea. That’s where the Cubs’ front office has put its faith during a quiet winter in which it added just one bench hitter, Daniel Descalso, to an offense that team president Theo Epstein said “broke” during a second-half scoring swoon last season.

Kris Bryant, the former MVP who was hampered most of the season by a
shoulder injury, is healthy again, and that’s the most likely source for possible improvement.

Beyond that, it’s about the no longer raw but still young core taking a collective step. Of course, that was supposed to happen last year.

If there’s one player among that group with the ceiling and the track record to suggest the kind of impact that could make fans forget the lack of a star addition, it might be the No. 4 overall draft pick in 2014 who had a .356 on-base percentage and 26 homers last year.

“I don’t want to think about that stuff,” said Schwarber, whose biggest room for growth is improving enough against left-handers to force his way into the lineup more often against them. “I’m not out here trying to chase numbers.

“I want to be consistent. That’s the biggest thing.”

Schwarber might be Exhibit A when it comes to the case the Cubs have made to keep their core together through uneven performances the last four years — a valuable talent even through his down moments to continually be a target of other teams in trade talks.

“He’s an incredibly gifted hitter, and we fully believe in the makeup,” general manager Jed Hoyer said this winter when asked about how bullish the Cubs remain on Schwarber’s upside. “In general, I think you can ask a similar question about almost any guy in our core. In the last three years, we’ve made a real effort to have this group together. I think we’re still going to win a lot of games as a group.”

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But keep an eye on Schwarber, in particular, this spring as the Cubs focus on getting more from their lineup, even if he suggests a lift could come from all parts of the group.

“Our lineup’s trying to strike fear in that pitcher’s eye. That’s always the goal,” Schwarber said. “If you’re satisfied with just where you’re at, for me, something’s wrong. I always want to strive for me. I want to strive to be that kind of player where you’re in there every day and you’re trying to make a difference.”

If anything, he said, the sudden, bitter exit from the playoffs in the wild-card game last October should set a single-minded tone for everybody in camp to be that difference maker.

“We were all pissed off that it ended the way it did,” he said. “It’s going to be a good wake-up call. To have that taste in our mouths that we had last year going into this year — we don’t want that to happen ever again.”