Kyle Schwarber has crushed opposing pitchers and fueled a big Cubs hot streak.
6. Los Angeles Dodgers (62-49, plus-57, LW: 2)
5. Chicago Cubs (62-48, plus-19, LW: 7)
4. Toronto Blue Jays (61-52, plus-129, LW: 10)
3. Pittsburgh Pirates (65-44, plus-58, LW: 4)
2. Kansas City Royals (66-44, plus-63, LW: 3)
1. St. Louis Cardinals (71-40, plus-121, LW: 1)
You can find all kinds of reasons for the hot streak that’s brought the Cubs 10 wins in their past 11 games and pushed them to the fourth-best record in baseball. Jake Arrieta’s on fire. Jon Lester’s blowing pitches by hitters. Hector Rondon’s pulling off Houdini acts. Kris Bryant just set the record for homers by a Cub in his debut season, and fellow rookies Addison Russell and Jorge Soler have heated up lately, too.
However, the biggest reason for the Cubs’ recent burst is none of the above. Instead, it’s a player who just finished his 28th game in the majors, a divisive prospect who might not even have an obvious position, a world smasher who has some Cubs fans more excited than they’ve been in ages. It’s a one-man wrecking crew that goes by the name of Kyle Schwarber.
To help you process the giddiness that Schwarber has instilled in the Wrigley faithful, here are 10 things to know about the rookie:
10. When the Cubs took him fourth overall in last year’s amateur draft, Schwarber caused dissension among prospect-heads. Not that the dude couldn’t hit. A star at Indiana University who modeled his take-and-rake approach after Joey Votto of the nearby Reds, Schwarber absolutely destroyed college pitching, and few draftniks doubted he could hit in the big leagues.
Still, listed at 6 feet and a generous 235 pounds, Schwarber lacked what you might call a chiseled physique, and his defense remained a going concern, resulting in an unusually large gap between rankings: Baseball America placed him no. 19 coming into this season, whereas Baseball Prospectus had him way down at no. 77. Even as Schwarber broke into the big leagues, no one knew for sure if he could stick at catcher or make it anywhere other than as a DH.
9. An injury to starting catcher Miguel Montero opened up the backstop job at the All-Star break, and Schwarber ran with it. After posting a .375/.412/.563 over his first 10 games, Schwarber banged out four hits in his 11th game, including a game-tying, two-run homer in the ninth and the go-ahead homer in the 13th. Oh, and the game was in Cincinnati, a 45-minute drive from his hometown of Middletown, Ohio.
8. That was Schwarber’s second four-hit game of the season. His first? It came in his first full major league game.
7. When Schwarber racked up that second four-hit game, it gave him one more than the rest of the Cubs roster had all year.
6. Montero returned to the lineup this Saturday. By then, Maddon had seen enough to know there was no way in hell he could bench his slugging phenom. So rather than sit Schwarber, Maddon moved the big guy to left field, shifted Chris Coghlan to second base (a position he’d played only a handful of times in his seven-year big league career), slid Addison Russell to shortstop, and benched three-time All-Star Starlin Castro. From a distance, it might seem insane to mess with half your lineup just to accommodate a pudgy rookie. But when that rookie is ripping the cover off the ball — he’s now up to .341/.429/.604 — you have to do it.
5. Schwarber’s primary walk-up song is “Thuggish Ruggish Bone” by Bone Thugs-N-Harmony.
4. His secondary walk-up song is “No Diggity” by Blackstreet.
3. Schwarber is 22 years old. He was 1 when “Thuggish Ruggish Bone” came out, and 3 when “No Diggity” dropped.
2. Jake Peavy, who is nearly 12 years older than Schwarber, doesn’t seem to share Schwarber’s love for ’90s hip-hop and R&B. Nor for Schwarber, apparently.
Andrew Baggarly ✔@extrabaggs
Peavy said he wanted Schwarber to "get in the box like his other teammates did and not kick dirt around and listen to his intro song."
1. Among all batters with 100 or more plate appearances, Schwarber ranks second in park-adjusted offense, trailing only Bryce Harper.
Regression will come at some point, especially to Schwarber’s sky-high .431 BABIP. And Schwarber’s defense has been ugly behind the plate: Although it’s a small sample, he’s already watched seven wild pitches scoot by, allowed 11 steals in 14 tries, cost his team two runs according to pitch-framing stats, and produced lousy overall results by advanced metrics.
Still, Schwarber’s command of the strike zone, and ability to crush pitches he likes, makes him a premium prospect for the Cubs. If he ends up sticking in left field instead of at catcher, the Cubs would lose the edge that comes with having a masher behind the plate, but they’d gain the benefit of Schwarber playing more often when he’s free from the rigors of squatting for nine innings at a time. As long as he’s in the lineup somewhere, Schwarber’s a big asset. No diggity, no doubt.