It's time to believe in Kyle Schwarber and the Cubs' offense

CHICAGO -- How would you like to have a hitter who has reached base in every game he has started since May 2? What about a batter who has walked more than anyone on the squad and is one home run from the team lead? You might be surprised to learn that those labels apply to Kyle Schwarber.

The signs that the Chicago Cubs left fielder is heating up have been there, though few outside the team have been paying attention. The situation prompted team president Theo Epstein to utter one of the best lines of the year.

"If anyone wants to sell their Kyle Schwarber stock, we're buying," Epstein declared before the homestand began Tuesday.

Considering Epstein's track record, it might not be a bad idea to listen when he gives stock tips.

Players who are struggling mightily don't reach base in 11 straight starts, as Schwarber has done. Yes, a lot of those jogs to first came via walks, but the leadoff hitter getting on base is exactly what a struggling lineup needs.

"Almost none of these guys are hitting up to their potential, and we're still OK," manager Joe Maddon said recently. "When they do, we'll really take off."

There's no denying that the offense hasn't taken off the way it did early last season. According to ESPN Stats & Information, through May 17 last year, the Cubs were averaging 5.9 runs per contest; this year, they're averaging 4.82. Their OPS was fourth in all of baseball on May 17, 2016; now it's 13th.

While all of this has contributed to a record hovering around the .500 mark, one statistic remains the same: walks.

The Cubs lead the National League in that category, just as they did all of last season, and they firmly believe that those baserunners will turn into more runs once some more hits start falling.

"It's not going to last, at all," Epstein said of the Cubs' hitting slump. "What it tells me is we're going to have five or six guys get hot at the same time."

That includes Schwarber, who is hitting .188 but still deserves a thank you from anyone who bats behind him. He has taken much of the abuse, yet veteran players who were healthy all of last season -- not just for a handful of games, as in Schwarber's case -- are struggling too. Did you know that Anthony Rizzo is hitting .221? Or that Javier Baez is batting .228? Ben Zobrist and Addison Russell haven't lit up the scoreboard, either, but the scrutiny has been on Schwarber and his adjustment to the leadoff role.

"It's coming," Maddon said over the weekend in St. Louis. "He's not far from breaking out. I like how it looks."

There's a saying that Maddon often repeats: If you're walking, you're hitting. The Cubs thrive when players are accepting their walks. That's when pitchers start throwing them strikes, and eventually the mistakes will be hit. Schwarber was expanding his zone earlier in the season, but now he's swinging at the right pitches.

"If I stick with the approach, good things will happen," Schwarber said. "You have to learn not to change anything and just stick with that process."

Schwarber took the high road when asked what it's like to be questioned every day about his hitting slump.

"I don't blame them," he said of fans. "I wish they could feel what I feel. I feel terrible when you're not helping your team. I'm going to go out there every day [because] I want to help my team win."

The Cubs are confident that Schwarber will do just that and his teammates will follow suit. The signs have all been there.

Now the hits have to follow, as they did Wednesday, when the Cubs scored seven runs without the aid of a home run.