By Nate Johnson
Cubs lesson learned this past week: the prospect pipeline did not run dry after calling up Kris Bryant and Addison Russell, as it appears (despite a small sample size) that catching prospect Kyle Schwarber is as good as advertised.
After striking out on three pitches facing Cleveland reliever Marc Rzepczynski in pinch-hitting duty on June 16, Schwarber bounced back with a 4-for-5 performance the next night in his first MLB start, helping propel the Cubs to their most one-sided victory in recent times during a 17-0 rout of the Indians.
Schwarber’s stat line during his cup of coffee with Chicago reads like that of a future All-Star, going 8-for-22 with a .591 slugging percentage and 6 runs batted in during his stint as a designated hitter. Last year’s first round draft pick was assigned to AAA-Iowa after Sunday’s 8-0 win in Minnesota for further seasoning behind the plate, but he should be back sooner rather than later.
The trouncing of Cleveland was the unquestionable highlight of another up and down week, rounded out by a 4-2 win on Monday over the NL West-leading Los Angeles Dodgers. Monday’s victory featured Kris Bryant’s first multi-home run performance as a big leaguer, a message to Dodgers rookie center fielder Joc Pederson that the NL Rookie of the Year race might not be sewn up quite yet.
Monday’s win was not without some downside, as starter Tsuyoshi Wada left in the third inning with left shoulder pain. Wada is questionable for his scheduled weekend start against St. Louis, which could open up the door for demoted starter Travis Wood, who came in on short notice to relieve Wada, to return to the rotation. The return of injured reliever Neil Ramirez, who is currently on a rehab assignment in AA-Tennessee, would certainly soften the loss.
Overall, Chicago finished the past week with four wins and three losses but outscored their opposition 38-20, a strong sign for a team too often coming up short in the offense department. Continued hot hitting by Bryant and Anthony Rizzo combined with center fielder Dexter Fowler’s second career grand slam on Sunday against the Minnesota Twins could show that the bats are ready to gain consistency coming into the summer months.
After the four-game homestand against Los Angeles, the Cubs hit the road to visit a pair of perennial rivals, the St. Louis Cardinals and the New York Mets. The series in St. Louis will mark the first three of seven times the two teams will meet over the next two weeks and could go a long way towards sorting out the NL Central race.