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Kyle Schwarber has 16 home runs in 18 games, and shows no signs of letting up


Kyle Schwarber stepped into the batter’s box to lead off the bottom of the first inning Tuesday night at Nationals Park as the hottest hitter in the game, facing veteran left-hander Rich Hill.

Hill doesn’t throw hard, but he has a big curveball and sometimes drops down. He’s also tough on lefties, who entered the game hitting .143 against him in 2021 without a home run in 56 at-bats. In fact, lefties didn’t homer off Hill in 2020 either, although that was a small sample of 17 at-bats. In 2019, they homered off him just once. Hill looked like a pitcher who might finally slow Schwarber down.

Hill’s first offering was a fastball of 83.4 mph. Maybe Hill figured Schwarber wasn’t going to swing, even though he does swing at the first pitch about 32% of the time. Schwarber swung at the elevated fastball, connected on the sweet part of the lumber and crushed the ball to right field, a 434-foot blast that appeared to land in the first row of the third deck.

It was Schwarber’s 16th home run in June, all coming from the leadoff spot. Most remarkably, it was his 16th home run in 18 games, as his first home run of the month didn’t come until June 12. The only other players with 16 home runs over an 18-game span: Sammy Sosa in 1998 and Barry Bonds in 2001.

Some of the other fantastical tidbits from Schwarber’s hot streak:

–He has 12 home runs over his past 10 games, matching Albert Belle in 1995 for most in a 10-game stretch.

–Five of his games have been multi-homer games (including three in one game), tying a record for most multi-homer games in a calendar month, matching Harmon Killebrew (May 1959), Belle (September 1995) and Edwin Encarnacion (May 2014).

–His seven first-inning home runs tie Alfonso Soriano (September 2007) and Carl Yastrzemski (June 1969) for most in a month.

–His 16 home runs in June are the second-most ever for the month, trailing only Sosa’s 20 in 1998 — the all-time record for any month. Players with 16 home runs in a month:

Sammy Sosa, June 1998: 20
Giancarlo Stanton, August 2017: 18
Sammy Sosa, August 2001: 17
Barry Bonds, May 2001: 17
Willie Mays, August 1965: 17
Kyle Schwarber, June 2021: 16
Mark McGwire, July 1999: 16
Mark McGwire, May 1998: 16
Ralph Kiner, September 1949: 16

That’s a list of sluggers you would expect to see. Those other six players have combined for 21 home run titles and 33 40-homer seasons, and each had at least one 50-homer season. But Schwarber? While he is no Punch-and-Judy hitter, he’s hit more than 30 home runs just once, a career-high of 38 in 2019. This is completely unexpected, especially from a player who struggled last season with the Cubs, hitting .188 and getting non-tendered, who missed the start of 2021 on the COVID-19 injured list, and who got off to a horrible start — hitting .189 with three home runs in his first 25 games.

“To be honest with you, I want to play stupid,” Schwarber said after Monday’s game, when he homered twice against the Mets. “That’s kind of the best way to describe it — just keep going up there and take your at-bat. Don’t remember the one before, just live in the present. I think that’s the biggest thing, is just go out there and have a short memory.”

Maybe that’s how you can hit an 83-mph slowball off Hill for a home run. Don’t think. Just swing.

“I’ve never seen anything like it,” manager Dave Martinez said Monday.

Schwarber has been particularly effective against fastballs this month, with 10 of his 16 home runs coming off fastballs or sinkers (and 18 of his 25 on the season). Schwarber’s struggles against fastballs last year was perhaps one reason the Cubs decided not to offer him a contract (aside from not wanting to pay him what he would have earned in arbitration). They may have seen a player whose bat was slowing down. Check his 2019 and 2020 numbers against four-seamers and two-seamers/sinker:

2019
4-seam: .232/.336/.548
2-seam/sinker: .337/.412/.756

2020
4-seam: .206/.375/.476
2-seam/sinker: .243/.282/.595

Whether he’s made adjustments or just hitting dumb, Schwarber has crushed four-seamers in 2021 to the tune of 1.066 OPS and two-seamers to a 1.375 OPS.

Asked after Tuesday’s game whether he’s ever had a streak like this – college, high school, Little League – Schwarber didn’t appear to want to analyze it too deeply. “I don’t think so,” he said. “I’m having fun, the boys rolling.” Then he thanked the fans for their support.

Indeed, Schwarber’s streak has carried the Nationals out of the NL East gutter. The 4-3 win over the Rays pushed them over .500 for the first time since starting the season 1-0. They are 13-3 over their past 16 games, and 14-4 since Schwarber’s reign of slug began. Suddenly the comparisons to 2019, when the Nationals started 19-31 and rallied to win the World Series, don’t seem so silly.

“We’re just going out there and grinding,” Schwarber said. “We’re locked in. We just want to keep it rolling. We’re going to be prepared. At the end [of the] day, we’re going to have to take the result, but I know everyone in the clubhouse is going to be prepared.”

Next up: Michael Wacha of the Rays. Let’s start checking those records for most home runs over 19 games … and then 20 games … and then …



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