Kyle Schwarber Hammering Historic Homers in NLCS

Cubs fans love nothing more than to recite names of former top prospects who ended up washing out in the majors, but coming in a close second on the masochism matrix is lamenting the stars that got away. Watching and tweeting about Anthony Rizzo propelling the Yankees has become something akin to a long-form Hellraiser reboot (there’s probably a joke to be made here about pinheads, but I’ll leave that to you). Then there’s Kyle Schwarber, who has accomplished some pretty impressive feats since leaving Chicago.

Or, more accurately, since being asked to leave. Each of Schwarber’s postseason dingers has been punctuated by a swarm of reminders that the Cubs non-tendered him after the 2020 season, letting him walk away for nothing rather than paying him an estimated $10 via arbitration. As foolish a decision as it was, it’s really got no bearing on this season because the Cubs would have traded him away during the Great Purge of ’21.

One could also very reasonably argue that it’s fallacy to transpose his performance with the Nationals and Red Sox last year with what he’d have done in Chicago or with what Joc Pederson did for the Cubs. Different environment, different spot in the order, different team dynamics, different motivation to prove himself. Even with that in mind, choosing to cut Schwarber loose just to save a couple million bucks will almost certainly stand out as the worst mistake Jed Hoyer will make as the Cubs’ baseball boss.

But this isn’t about the Cubs making poor personnel decisions, it’s about what Schwarber is doing this postseason with a Phillies team that has the twinkle of destiny in its eye. In their NLCS Game 1 win over San Diego, Schwarber blasted a 488-foot homer against former teammate Yu Darvish — whose departure from Chicago was also financially motivated — to set the record for the longest dinger in Petco Park’s 18-year history.

“Next time I meet him I might have to punch him,” Darvish quipped after the game.

That Scwarbomb was also the second-longest postseason homer ever, at least in the Statcast era, falling just three feet short of Willson Contreras‘s monster dong in Game 4 of the 2017 NLCS. Those shots were hit five years apart to the day, which is pretty cool. So Schwarber hammered a homer against one former teammate that came close to matching a homer set by another former teammate, one who will also be playing for the not-Cubs soon if expectations hold.

In order to really get into the weird situational stats only baseball can produce, however, we need to go to Friday night’s Game 3 and the leadoff homer Schwarber hit in Philly’s first home playoff game since 2010. This came after he had caught the first pitch thrown out for former Phillies postseason hero Matt Stairs, who is also a former Cubs outfielder if you’re keeping score at home. Too bad Joe Musgrove isn’t a former Cub.

Even without adding yet another layer of coincidence to the mix, the homer has plenty of historical context. As Jayson Stark revealed in The Athletic, Schwarber is the first player in the live-ball era to lead his league in homers while serving primarily as a leadoff hitter (546 of his 669 plate appearances). You might recall that Brady Anderson hit 50 for the Orioles in 1996 to finish second in MLB, but Mark McGwire slugged two more for the A’s that season.

It gets wilder. Schwarber’s nuke in Friday’s game made him the first player in history — as in, ever — to hit a leadoff homer in a postseason game after leading his league in homers during the regular season. Please take some time to gather what’s left of your mind now that it has been blown.

Stark noted that no player has ever led off back-to-back postseason games with a homer, so Schwarber will have a chance to make even more history on Saturday night. He’s got a ways to go in terms of total playoff dingers, though, as he’s currently got 11 between three different teams. Five of those came as a rookie in 2015, when Schwarber gave birth to countless GIFs and memes by stealing the souls of Gerrit Cole and Kevin Siegrist.

That tally was good enough to set the all-time Cubs record to that point, which isn’t saying too much given the organization’s dearth of appearances in October. Schwarber is still six bombs short of 11th place on the all-time postseason list, where Jim Thome and David Ortiz currently sit tied at 17. The top 10 is littered with current and former Astros, from Carlos Correa (18, T-7) to George Springer (19, T-5) to Jose Altuve (23, 2), but Manny Ramirez is all alone at the top with 29.

Rather than allow this to devolve into a spirited conversation about how PEDs and an ever-expanding playoff format have made such rankings impossible to take very seriously, I’ll close by saying how fun it has been to watch Schwarber do his thing. And not in a pain-as-pleasure sort of way, either. Postseason baseball is awesome, and sometimes it’s fun to watch with less attachment to the outcome.

Schwarber may not be a Cub any longer, but some of those emotional ties remain intact and give a reason to pull for him to keep bashing moonshots.

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