The Cubs may have been playing in Cincinnati, but Great American Ball Park was annexed by the Schwindy City Tuesday night as a breakout first baseman helped power a rare victory. Frank Schwindel has come out of nowhere since being called up on the day of the trade deadline to rake like a lawn care professional when the leaves are falling. The 29-year-old put the Cubs on the board with an RBI double in the 3rd, giving them the first of the only two runs they’d need to win their first game in almost two weeks.
It was Schwindel’s fifth double in the last six games, over which time he’s driven in eight runs, and an earlier single gave him a 2-for-4 performance that raised his batting average to .382 in 16 games with his new team. He is also slugging .727 with a .201 wRC+ in that time, both of which are team highs. That might seem like a silly statement, but the man Schwindel drove in for that first run is batting .400 with a 195 wRC+ and .650 slugging since the deadline.
Rafael Ortega is also sixth in MLB with 1.0 fWAR in the given sample, 10 spots ahead of Schwindel and his 0.8 fWAR. That’s nearly two wins of value between them for a team that has only won three games since July 30, which you can see as either really good for those individuals or very bad for the team.
But back to Schwindel, who is throwing off serious Micah Hoffpauir/Bryan LaHair vibes with his hot play at first base. Given his advanced age and the fact that he’s spent most of the last five years at Triple-A, it would be easy to dismiss him as a flash in the pan. It probably doesn’t help that most people hear his name and think it’s more suitable for a dude showing off plumber’s crack than the crack of his bat.
“This is awesome,” Schwindel recently said of his big break. “Playing first base for the Chicago Cubs, can’t beat it. Obviously, we’ve been scuffling here a little bit, but I think we’ve got a lot of talent in the locker room and nobody’s really down. We’re just going to show up and give our best every day and see what happens.”
It’s clear that the players are putting out maximum effort, even if the front office has clearly limited the extent to which that effort can be effective. Some of that is about ensuring the Cubs don’t accidentally get hot and hurt the team’s draft position, though it’s also very much about finding out who can legitimately contribute next season and beyond.
Any fan would much rather see their team competing for first place and not the fifth pick, but there is a certain romantic feel when it comes to seeing a few players get shots that otherwise might not have been available. It’s kind of like The Natural, just without homemade bats, attempted murder, or the diabeetus guy. In a little less than three weeks, Schwindel has already accumulated more MLB plate appearances with the Cubs (58) than he had with the Royals and A’s combined (35).
“Getting to put on a Cubs uniform in the big leagues and playing with these guys, there’s no better feeling,” Schwindel said.
How long that feeling lasts is as much about the front office and the baseball budget as it is the player, though maintaining his hot hitting over the next few weeks could make Schwindel the clubhouse leader for the first base gig next season. Hell, he might just be a clubhouse leader, period. The Cubs may want to get a look at 24-year-old Alfonso Rivas at some point, but he’s a lefty batter and has played a little left field in the past so perhaps a platoon/utility role is an option.
Whatever ends up happening in the future, seeing Schwindel out there genuinely enjoying himself and more or less carrying the team has been one of the few bright spots for the Cubs of late.