Not many people would have predicted that on June 1, 2017, two months into the Major League Baseball season, that the Chicago Cubs would be two games under .500 at 25-27, but that’s where we are. After back-to-back sweeps and a 0-6 road trip for the first time since 2012, the Cubs find themselves searching for the success that won them a championship in 2016. The last time that the Cubs were under .500 this deep into the season was in 2014, the last time that the Cubs failed to qualify for the postseason.
Everything that went well for them last year seems to be doing just the opposite in 2017. Hitters and pitchers across the board are underachieving. This is surprising for many reasons, the biggest being that the team is pretty similar in terms of personnel compared to last years ball club with the exception of the subtractions of Dexter Fowler, Jason Hammel and David Ross.
The team is hitting just .211 with runners in scoring position. To put that in perspective, no National League team has finished the season with an average that low since the 1981 New York Mets who hit .210 with runners in scoring position. That statistic can be a positive or negative depending on how it’s looked at. With the personnel the Cubs have, there is no way they will hit just .211 with runners in scoring position the rest of the season, right? Well, we have to remember this is baseball and inexplicable things do happen. With that being said, everyone, including myself, fully expect the Cubs and most of their hitters to get back on track.
One player who’s having a very rough time right now is former World Series hero, Kyle Schwarber. He is hitting just .174 with eight home runs and 20 RBI. His OBP is also low by his standards (.297). He has struck out 60 times in 47 games to this point in 2017. The one bright spot has been his ability to walk. He has 27 walks in 2017, which is good for 11th best in the National League. Other than that, Schwarber has been a huge disappointment to this point.
In his first season in 2015, Schwarber hit .246 with 16 home runs and 43 RBI in 69 games. In 2016, he missed almost all of the regular season after he suffered a torn ACL during the first week of the season, after a collision in the outfield during a game in Arizona. He did however return for the 2016 World Series where he hit .412 in five games. There is no doubt Schwarber can hit despite the small sample size, but what’s going on this season?
Schwarber started the year with a lot of pressure on him, as he was labeled the Cubs new lead-off hitter well before Opening Day.
It’s safe to say that was a disaster of an experiment. Call it whatever, but Schwarber is not a lead-off hitter, plain and simple. Since then, Joe Maddon has tried several other things to get 24-year-old back on track, including moving him down in the order. Still, nothing has seemed to work.
It could be that opposing teams have figured out some of Schwarber’s weaknesses and are doing everything they can to successfully exploit them. Again, Schwarber has hit at every level, so this should pass, but how much longer can it take?
The problem with Schwarber is he doesn’t provide much value in the field. He is in the lineup for one reason and one reason only: to rake. If he’s not doing that then the Cubs are really in trouble because not only are they suffering on offense, but on defense as well.
Thankfully, the Cubs can afford to continue to allow Schwarber to figure things out in the big leagues because their division is awful. The Cubs are just two games back of the Milwaukee Brewers for first-place in the National League Central. The Cubs and Schwarber have time, but if things still continue to go in the wrong direction Schwarber may benefit from some time in the minors.
Cubs fans will come at me hard for this one, but hear me out. Schwarber’s slump has nothing to do with him being sent down. We know he can hit at the big-league level, but he needs to clean some things up, that is obvious at this point. Going down to the minors would do just that. Things like strike zone management and not having the pressure of performing at the big league level would have a positive impact on Schwarber.
The stint in Triple-A wouldn’t be a long one either. Two weeks max. The Kansas City Royals did something similar with Mike Moustakas is 2014 and that seemed to workout well considering where Moustakas was and where he is at this point in his career.
Recently, the St. Louis Cardinals sent down Randal Grichuk to work on his game. Moves like these aren’t as uncommon as many people believe them to be.
The Cubs and Schwarber should eventually come out their funks. If they don’t, other options need to be explored, which include the minor leagues.