I made my husband Bob giggle yesterday as we went through our morning routines, which in his case, features sports talk radio. After months of MLB season 2018 anticipation, excitement turned to anger as the Cubs opening day lineup was announced. As I’m prone to doing, displeasure was immediately expressed in colorful language. It was of some comfort to learn I wasn’t alone in condemning Manager Joe Maddon’s strategy. Julie DiCaro of the WSCR-AM 670 is behind the creation of my new favorite Twitter hashtag, #FreeAlmora.
The consistently raw deal shown to my man Alberto Almora Jr. is another rant for another time. The 23 year-old outfielder batted a cumulative .298 during the 2017 season and made but one fielding error. And throughout a depressing National League Championship series, Almora was one of only two players who batted above .222. The other, unbelievably, was pitcher Jose Quintana. To those tempted to look at these stats and argue that Almora Jr. didn’t play every day, I say that’s exactly my point. Whose fault is it that a young and exciting player too often rides the bench?
Kyle Schwarber’s, or more accurately, Joe Maddon, who continues to put the 2016 World Series star on the field – with disastrous results. By any measure, Schwarber had a rough 2017 season. Things were so bad that the Cubs sent the young player to the minor leagues for a stint intended to help him get his act together. The ploy did not work very well. The 24 year-old batted an anemic .211 on the season, and was a constant source of stress in the outfield. Let us pause to briefly reflect on the two errors Schwarbs made during Game 3 of the 2017 NLDS – in the same play. Brutal.
It’s not as though irritated fans like myself don’t have affection for the guy. His personality is immensely likeable. And of course, the one-time Boy Wonder had a lot to do with finally bringing a World Series trophy to Wrigleyville Nation. Schwarber’s comeback from a season-ending knee injury to help his teammates end the sporting world’s longest losing streak is a story that deserves to be told for generations.
But this isn’t 2016 and Schwarber no longer deserves the benefit of the doubt at Albert Almora Jr’s expense. Especially in the field. Throughout the offseason, Bob and many other diehard Schwarber fans made much of the player’s dramatic weight loss, ostensibly an effort to lighten his feet in left field. On February 22, Bleacher Nation Tweeted out side-by-side photos of Schwarbs’ physique from Spring Training 2017 versus 2018. The difference is indeed striking, and led the writers to observe:
“This is what incredible hard work and discipline looks like. Anyone want to bet on Kyle Schwarber not having a big season? I’ll take that bet.”
Well Bleacher Nation, I hope your offices are near an ATM, because if Day 1 of the MLB season is any indicator, you’re going to need some cash. Yes, yes I know Schwarbs hit a home run. And that’s just swell. When he hits the long ball, it’s an objectively beautiful sight to behold. However Chicago Sun-Times writer Satchel Price hints at the overall loss resulting from a Schwarber cost-benefit analysis:
“[The 2018 season opener] wasn’t always the prettiest game, including two errors by each team and a brief outing from Cubs starting pitcher Jon Lester, but the Cubs have to be thrilled to come away with a 1-0 record.”
Who committed the two errors from The Cubs side? Let’s read on…
“Joe Maddon…made a couple changes entering the bottom of the seventh, bringing in relief pitcher Pedro Strop and replacing Kyle Schwarber in left field with the defensively superior Albert Almora. Schwarber finishes his day at the plate 1-of-3 with one walk and one home run.”
It’s worth mentioning that the two errors from left field resulted in two of four total Marlins’ runs. So while it’s great that Schwarber contributed to the offense, his defense more than erased the gift. The Cubs won 8-4 and if Maddon is going to continue to put Schwarber’s stone glove in the outfield, we’re going to need dominant bats and solid pitching all season long.
Let’s not risk it. Given the Chicago Cubs’ exciting offseason personnel moves, we have a real shot at bringing home our second trophy since 1908. We can’t afford outfielders giving away free runs, especially against teams stronger than the Marlins.