Kyle Schwarber is lost for now. He’s been lost most of the season, in fact. So has been almost half of the defending World Series champions. Team president Theo Epstein could and did send Schwarber to Triple-A Iowa to find himself again, preferably not chasing bad pitches and rediscovering the groove that might have been fractured when he was moved to the leadoff slot.
But sending one lost player down to rediscover himself is one thing. Epstein can’t send a lost team down. Whether the season is one or two-thirds done, there’s just not enough room down on the farm to rehabilitate half a team.
For the Schwarbinator the issue is that almost a third of his hits have been home runs, and he has 38 hits, but the Cubs don’t want him turning into the pure slugger numbers like that portray. They want the Schwarber who knew how to work counts while hitting balls into orbit. They want the slugger to be a hitter again, just the way he was in last fall’s World Series.
And Epstein is betting big enough that a guy who could will himself back from what was supposed to be a season-ending knee injury to perform as Schwarber did last fall can will himself back from Iowa as the hitter he was against the Indians and elsewhere.
That’d solve one serious Cub problem. But only one.
They’re barely a .500 team this season. At this writing they’re one game over .500 and a game and a half behind the National League Central-leading Brewers. On paper that looks reasonable in their division, but between the lines it isn’t as good as that.
They have at least three key men—Jason Heyward, Ben Zobrist, and Kyle Hendricks—on the disabled list.
They have another key man, shortstop Addison Russell, going through what looks to one and all like a very painful divorce in which accusations of adultery and domestic violence play./ The latter accusations are denied by both Russell and his estranged wife, the latter of whom refuses to talk to baseball government about them. About the former nothing seems confirmed.
Russell remains a solid defender with thirteen defensive runs saved through 21 June. But trying to perform a too-public profession when your private life is under assault is no simple business. Older men than Russell learn that the hard way; a 23-year-old shortstop you figure is a little too young to have to learn.
It didn’t work for Prince Fielder when his marriage fell onto the rocks and rumours abounded that a teammate was involved; the marriage ended up surviving, but Fielder’s neck ended up resigning its commission and putting paid to his career. Matt Harvey’s collapse this year turned out to have something big to do with a failed romance, and that was before the stress injury to the scapula bone in his throwing shoulder disabled him yet again.
Anthony Rizzo is the only Cub to drive in more than forty runs so far this year. Kris Bryant doesn’t look as much like his defending MVP self as Cub Country hoped. The Cubs are 6-4 in their last ten games, the scoring 47-32 over the span. Not bad, but if they hadn’t thumped the Mets 14-3 on 13 June they might have been in the scoring hole over the span.
Jon Lester is the only Cub starting pitcher with an ERA and a fielding-independent pitching rate under 4.00. Jake Arrieta’s fatigue concerns—Arrieta himself wonders if throwing 500 innings over the previous two seasons hasn’t taken a toll—are alarming for a team that can’t afford to rest him too much the rest of the way.
Mike Montgomery has been making a case to stay in a stablising role in the rotation, but the question becomes which among the Cubs’ faltering arms becomes the sacrificial lamb. Eddie Butler is trying to make a similar case, and there’ve been times when he’s looked up to the task, but right now Montgomery has the clear advantage. And the Cubs have a clear headache.
Closer Wade Davis has been everything the Cubs wanted and more when they brought him aboard, Carl Edwards has been a nice surprise with his 1.84 ERA, and Koji Uehara has done better than you had a right to expect considering his age and his mileage. But what good’s a solid bullpen when it seems like half their work involves containing damage?
And don’t look down on the farm for help right now. It’s one thing to send Schwarber down to get himself straightened out, but the Cubs don’t have a lot of elite-looking arms on the farm at this writing. What they have is room to maneuver approaching the non-waiver trade deadline. What they have to answer is what they’re willing to surrender to get it.
What they’re not willing to surrender is the season. Returning to the postseason after you bag the World Series—with or without ending a century plus-old actual or alleged curse—is tough enough. But writing the surrender terms is tougher when you’re inclined to write anything but yet the circumstances have begun forging the early language.
Remember: the Cubs looked wiped last June/July, too. And we know how the rest of 2016 worked for them. Epstein and company might have a surprise or three to deliver yet. The record as it is shows it’s not an unrealistic supposition.