MLB

World Series hero Schwarber set free by Cubs

By Sports Desk December 03, 2020

Kyle Schwarber is a free agent after the Chicago Cubs non-tendered the 2016 MLB World Series hero, though he could still return to Wrigley Field.

Schwarber was in the final year of arbitration, but the Cubs opted to make the star outfielder a free agent after six seasons, while tendering contacts to 2016 National League (NL) MVP Kris Bryant, Javier Baez and Willson Contreras on Wednesday.

The 27-year-old Schwarber was a key member of the Cubs team that ended their 108-year championship drought, having returned from a severe left knee injury.

Schwarber produced a three-hit performance in Game 7 of the World Series against the Cleveland Indians four years ago – he finished with seven hits, two RBIs and two runs in five games as the Cubs emerged triumphant.

"Listen, he's always going to be a Cubs legend," Cubs president of baseball operations Jed Hoyer said. "There's no question about that, as he should be.

"It was a hard conversation. I called Kyle. Expressed that we're definitely going to keep the door open. We have and will continue to talk to [his agent] about ways to bring him back.

"So, I wanted to express that to him, but also to express that if that doesn't work out, just all the affection we've had for all he's done. I don't think the door is closed, but we had a good conversation."

Schwarber made his MLB debut for the Cubs in 2015 after being drafted a year earlier.

During the coronavirus-hit 2020 season, Schwarber tallied 30 runs on 36 hits in 59 games, while recording 11 home runs and 24 RBIs as the Cubs were swept by the Miami Marlins in the Wild Card Series.

Schwarber was the fastest to 100 career home runs among all players ever to debut with the Cubs, and his career rate of 14.9 at-bats per home run is second to only Sammy Sosa (12.8) in franchise history.

Since entering the league, Schwarber has appeared in 551 games, registered 295 runs, 416 hits, 121 homers and 279 RBIs at .230.

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    Manchester United's record against the so-called 'big six' of the Premier League this season reads zero wins, two defeats and two draws.

    They have conceded seven goals, six of them at home to Tottenham, and scored just once – a Bruno Fernandes penalty two minutes into that 6-1 hammering in October.

    Fernandes scored their previous goal in these encounters from the spot, too, in a 1-1 draw at Spurs last June. In fact, you have to go back to March 2020 and their 2-0 win at home to Manchester City, the last Old Trafford game played in front of a crowd, for the previous occasion that they scored a goal against a big-six team that wasn't a penalty.

    They might be top of the league heading into Sunday's showdown with Liverpool but, for a manager that made an early habit of extracting big performances against the best sides, that stat should be of serious concern to Ole Gunnar Solskjaer.

     

    BIG ZERO SIX

    Since the end of the 2019-20 shutdown, United have played seven games against the big six and won none of them, if you include domestic cup losses to Chelsea and City.

    In league football alone, they have drawn against Tottenham, Chelsea and City and lost to Spurs and Arsenal, with just two Fernandes penalties to show for it. All their previous three such games were at home and they have not scored in any of them.

    In their first 14 league games against these sides under Solskjaer, United won six times and lost only four, scoring 16 goals and conceding 13 – a decent record given their real problems with consistency.

    The strange thing is United's winless run against the best has coincided with a general upturn in form since the previous season restarted last June. Taking only results in that time into account, United have played 26, won 17, lost just three, scored 56 goals and conceded 30. That's the best record of any side in the league and seven points better than Liverpool.

    In fact, narrow that down to results against teams in the top half of the table in the same time frame, and United have lost the fewest games (two) of any side, with 21 points taken from 13 games, just three behind Jurgen Klopp's side.

    So, why the recent drop-off against the very best?

    Solskjaer's most dependable attacking weapons have been Fernandes, Anthony Martial and Marcus Rashford, all three of whom will almost certainly start at Liverpool, barring injury.

    They were all involved in their last big-six contest in the league, a 0-0 draw at home to City in December. Rashford managed only one shot all game and created no chances for anyone else; Martial, a late substitute, created one chance but had no shots himself. Fernandes, ever the fulcrum of United's attack, had four shots and created two chances.

    The previous game was a staid goalless draw with Chelsea that made the derby look positively thrill-a-minute. That day, with Martial banned, Rashford was more involved, with three attempts at goal and two chances created; he was outdone by Fernandes (three shots, four chances created).

    They don't exactly look like imperious figures, but they actually fall in line with their per-90-minute numbers for this season. On average, Rashford attempts 2.7 shots per game and creates 1.3 chances; Martial has 2.9 shots and creates 1.2 chances; Fernandes musters 3.6 shots and creates 3.4 chances.

    Put succinctly, based on this season's performances, Fernandes should be expected to create between three and four goalscoring opportunities in every league game he starts for United. In other words, he was bang on his average against City and Chelsea. Rashford's numbers are similarly close to the mean.

    United's best attackers, then, are keeping their performance levels consistent against the big six. They're just meeting greater resistance. That becomes clearer looking at expected goals.

    In their most recent three league games against these sides, United have had xG of 0.6 against City, 0.7 against Chelsea and a lowly 0.4 in a 1-0 loss to Arsenal. In those same fixtures in 2019-20, those figures were 1.6 (in a 2-0 win against City), 2.2 (in a 4-0 win over Chelsea) and 0.9 (in a 1-1 draw with Arsenal). Interestingly, though, Chelsea and Arsenal had higher xG numbers in those games last season, even though they suffered worse results, and City's only increased this term by 0.7.

    This reflects a general balancing out in these matches. They are, for the most part, more attritional and less unpredictable affairs settled by fine margins – exactly the sort of contest you'd expect between true heavyweights. United are not significantly under-performing each time; they're just not quite tilting the odds in their favour.

    How, then, might they change that against Liverpool? There is one simple way.

    SLAB EXPERIMENT

    United have one particular weakness, regardless of opposition: set-pieces. This season, they have conceded 11 goals from set-plays; only Wolves (12), Brighton and Hove Albion (14) and Leeds United (16) have a worse record. They have shipped four goals from corners, the same number as Liverpool, but the champions have only conceded eight times from dead-ball situations overall.

    At the other end, United have scored 10 goals from set-pieces, a tally bettered by just four teams: Aston Villa and Southampton (11), and Chelsea and Liverpool (12). Only Chelsea (34) have created more dead-ball chances than United (31).

    There is an argument to say they should have more set-piece goals than anyone else. It's an argument that centres around their captain – the man who might be the very thing United need to get back to scoring against, and winning against, big-six opposition.

    Since the start of last season, Harry Maguire has won 73 per cent of his aerial duels in the Premier League. That's the best rate of anyone who has contested at least 300 in that time. In fact, he has lost only 98 of the 341 he has been involved in, which is the lowest number of losses across the same period within that elite group.

    However, in an attacking sense, the world's most expensive defender doesn't seem to have his head on straight. Since the start of 2019-20, he has attempted 27 headed shots, hit the target with just nine of them, and scored with two. Of players with at least 20 headed shots in that time, only four have hit the target less often.

    On Sunday, Maguire will face a Liverpool side without Virgil van Dijk, Joe Gomez and possibly Joel Matip. He will rarely have a better chance of stealing a march at set-plays and, if he does, he could well end United's wait for a goal – and a win – against the best. Sometimes, those fine margins are the width of a forehead.

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    Harden, an eight-time All-Star, was traded to the Nets from the Houston Rockets on Thursday, joining Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving in Brooklyn.

    The Nets (7-6) are set to contend for a first NBA championship and Nash said there was a huge opportunity ahead.

    "We want to win a championship, for sure. That's why we made the deal, that's what we're setting out to do," he told a news conference.

    "Having said that, we're so far from that right now so our expectations are to grow every day, to get better, to figure out who we are and what we are and how we fit together and where we can improve. It's a process.

    "You have to earn the right to play for a championship through the regular season and playoffs so those steps are still in front of us before we can say we're a championship team.

    "We're not a team that's running it back that's been to the Finals or Conference Finals even, we're a brand new entity that has to figure it out but that is the end goal and if we take the necessary steps and continue to improve and work towards that and commit to that process, why not? We have a great opportunity here with the players we have."

    With Durant and Harden, the Nets now have two players who have won seven of the past 11 NBA scoring titles. No Brooklyn qualifier has ever finished higher than fifth.

    Irving, Harden and Durant all rank in the top 10 in the NBA in scoring average (minimum 500 games) since the former's rookie season in 2011-12.

    Harden could make his Nets debut against the Orlando Magic on Saturday.

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    LeBron James had a double-double of 21 points and 11 assists as the Lakers recorded a comfortable 112-95 win over the New Orleans Pelicans on Friday.

    Kyle Kuzma contributed 11 points and 13 rebounds off the bench, while Anthony Davis struggled from the field, shooting five-of-16 for his 17 points.

    Pelicans star Zion Williamson finished with 21 points and 12 rebounds, but the Lakers extended their winning streak to five.

    Giannis Antetokounmpo's 31 points and nine rebounds helped the Bucks overcome the Dallas Mavericks 112-109.

    Luka Doncic fell just short of a triple-double, contributing 28 points, 13 assists and nine rebounds in the Mavericks' loss.

    The Bucks (9-4) have won four straight to sit behind the Celtics (8-3) in the Eastern Conference.

    Brown leads returning Celtics, Drummond stars

    Jaylen Brown had 21 points and eight assists in the Celtics' 124-97 win over the Orlando Magic. It was Boston's first game in a week.

    A huge double-double of 33 points and 23 rebounds from Andre Drummond saw the Cleveland Cavaliers edge the New York Knicks 106-103.

    The Los Angeles Clippers thrashed the Sacramento Kings 138-100 thanks to 27 points, six assists and four rebounds from Kawhi Leonard.

    Shai Gilgeous-Alexander posted 33 points and 10 assists in the Oklahoma City Thunder's 127-125 victory over the Chicago Bulls.

    Bulls' narrow losses continue

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    Drummond dynamite

    Drummond produced a huge performance for the Cavs. He was 10-of-18 from the field and 16 of his 23 rebounds were on the defensive end.

    Friday's results

    Boston Celtics 124-97 Orlando Magic
    Cleveland Cavaliers 106-103 New York Knicks
    Milwaukee Bucks 112-109 Dallas Mavericks
    Oklahoma City Thunder 127-125 Chicago Bulls
    Utah Jazz 116-92 Atlanta Hawks
    Los Angeles Lakers 112-95 New Orleans Pelicans
    Los Angeles Clippers 138-100 Sacramento Kings

     

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