In the midst of an 8-4 Chicago Cubs win over the Miami Marlins Thursday, Kyle Schwarber stood out as he typically does. No, he didn’t have a career day or a legendary walk-off moment.
Instead, his opening day served as the perfect summary for his career on the Northside.
Schwarber finished Thursday’s game going 1 for 3 at the plate, drawing a walk and later blasting a mammoth solo home run in the top of the 7th. But he also had two major defensive mishaps in the bottom of the 3rd.
First, he misplayed a fly ball from Derek Dietrich, turning what should’ve been an easy out into a triple. Later in the same inning, Brian Anderson lined a hit into shallow left field. Schwarber took an odd angle on the ball, causing it bounce off his glove and roll onto the warning track. The two-base error allowed a runner at second to score.
What a tease!
Even after getting into the best shape of his life this offseason, the lighter Schwarber still struggled with the same issues the thicker one did. Yes, it’s one game. But we’ve seen this frequently in his short MLB career, whether it’s a regular season tilt or a high-stakes playoff game.
In fact, his defensive gaffes against the Marlins were both eerily similar to his most infamous error. During Game 3 of last season’s NLDS against the Nationals, Schwarber had a routine fly ball go off his glove. As he tried to pick it up, the ball rolled away from him. The sequence turned an easy out into a triple.
Ball gets hit toward Schwarber. He misplays it. Rinse and repeat.
In all fairness, he played catcher during his high-school, collegiate and minor-league careers. So you knew adjusting to a new position would be rough, especially at the major-league level. Still, not being able to make even the simplest plays is maddening. It’s why some fans want him to be shipped to the American League to play DH.
So why deal with the headaches and liability in left field? Well, his bat can be pretty damn good.
Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer have always projected the left-handed power hitter as someone who could be a force in the middle of the lineup. A guy who can hit 30 homers, drive in 100 runs and have a .900 OPS.
His performance at the plate on opening day was why you risk putting Schwarber in left field. He has the ability to draw a key walk and can uncork a massive home run in a moment’s notice. His first Schwar-bomb of 2018 gave the Cubs an insurance run and had an impressive exit velocity of 107.2 mph, traveling 406 ft.
Schwarber can’t afford to struggle like he did at the beginning of the 2017 season, when he hit a paltry .171 with 12 homers, 28 RBIs and a .673 OPS in 64 games before being demoted to Triple-A Iowa. Issues like that at the plate will exacerbate his defensive woes.
Sure, losing his bat late in games for a defensive replacement like Albert Almora isn’t ideal, especially if it’s a tight ballgame. But as long as he puts up a solid slash line or has key plays at the plate like he did on opening day, Joe Maddon will keep putting Schwarber in the lineup and in left field.
Even if the reward seems a bit risky.