In the moment, I was pretty sure Kyle Schwarber was injured.
Absent any other context, it wouldn’t make sense to pull Schwarber so early in a game the Cubs were trailing if he wasn’t dealing with some kind of injury or illness. Surely he didn’t get yanked solely because he slightly misplayed a ball off the wall, and then slightly slow-played his jog to retrieve it, right?
Except he did get yanked for that. So now we have to figure out the context.
Although manager David Ross refused to get into particulars after the game – “I’d like to keep it in house. That’s between me and Schwarbs.” – Schwarber was there to answer questions after he was pulled, and then remained on the bench to cheer on his team.
“The guy shouldn’t have got to third base there,” Schwarber said after the game, per Cubs.com. “I put Yu in a tough spot. I put him in a bad spot. I put the team in a bad spot there. And I guess you’ve got to learn from it and move on. I think, obviously, it’s not the ideal way to learn from it. But you know what? I think that I can take a lot of different punches …. I pride myself on myself being a team guy. And a guy who’s going to play this game 120 percent every play. I think my teammates understand that, and I think Rossy understands that as well. I’m not going to be that guy who’s going to be selfish. There’s still a game going on. This is bigger than me.”
So the question is why would Schwarber get yanked for such a minor infraction in that moment, especially when he’s not a guy who is out there loafing on the regular? Well, I suspect there’s more to it than just one misplay, and I mean that in terms of everything: more going on with Schwarber, more going on with Ross, and more going on with the team.
Part of that suspicion is because it would otherwise feel like last night’s yank was a crazy overreaction from a manger who hasn’t otherwise given us reason to think he’s prone to that. But a bigger part of my suspicion comes from considering the broader season circumstances, in the context of Ross’s post-game comments.
Consider what Ross said after the game, when discussing Schwarber’s work ethic more generally: “He busts it every time out there. Just scuffling a little bit at the plate. In here, putting in the work, trying to get better like a lot of our offensive players. When you’re not hitting, it’s just tough. Baseball’s not a whole lot of fun when you’re scuffling a little bit.”
So, then, Schwarber is a guy who busts it all the time, and it’s not like benching him mid-game is designed to send him a message to work harder or stay more focused or whatever. Moreover, since this wasn’t some egregious offense by Schwarber that Ross wants to root out among all the players in the final week of the season, I think you can fairly presume it wasn’t about sending a message to the rest of the team.
Instead, based on Ross’s comments on the offensive side of things, and how it bleeds into the whole game, I wonder if Ross was simply taking an opportunity to try to spark Schwarber. Keep in mind, Ross and Schwarber have a long, close relationship going back five years now. Isn’t it possible that Ross knows Schwarber so well that he wanted to take this opportunity to give him a kick in the pants because Ross thinks that might have a chance of shaking something loose in Schwarber over the final week and into the postseason?
As we’ve discussed, Schwarber has quietly been really awful at the plate this month, and there’s only so much a manager can do to help “fix” a guy down the stretch. Maybe something had been building between the two for a while – no, not a problem, but just some gradual and unhelpful development that requires a sudden and dramatic moment to change a player’s thinking. Something as surprising and stark as yanking a dude in the 3rd inning.
Ross himself said that Schwarber is scuffling at the plate, but is putting in the work. Maybe Ross came to believe that putting in the work wasn’t enough to get Schwarber out of his funk? Maybe all the work – and lack of results from it – was actually starting to do more harm than good? Maybe Ross wanted to try something else that he felt would work for this player, specifically. Maybe Ross saw Schwarber fly out deep on a 2-0 pitch, and then immediately misplay that ball, and he thought now is the time to do something so Schwarber isn’t taking the at bats out there with him into the field.
We can’t know this stuff for sure, of course. We can only see the situation, see the quotes, extrapolate, and observe. Given the relationship between these two, and given what we know about Schwarber as a player and a teammate, I’m thinking all the above is probably in the ballpark of an explanation. I highly doubt this is reflective of any kind of ongoing issue beyond Ross simply wanting to do whatever he can to help Schwarber succeed. Sometimes, it looks like a guy getting yanked for misplaying a ball off the wall, but it’s actually a little deeper than that.