If it was a Hollywood script, it’d be thrown out for being too implausible. Kyle Schwarber was presumed lost for the season after injuring his knee in the Cubs’ third game back in April, though there was always a shred of hope that his shredded ligaments would be patched up and healed in time to DH in the World Series. It may not have the witty repartee of Aaron Sorkin or Quentin Tarantino, but it looks as if that wild script we’ve been crowd-sourcing has just been picked up.
— Jon Morosi (@jonmorosi) October 24, 2016
Here’s the fever dream I had back in mid-August, just after War Bear had said he was “most likely probably not” going to be able to return in 2016:
Schwarber was injured on 4/7 and had surgery 12 days later, so if we go with the short end of the traditional 6-9 month recovery from knee reconstruction he could be fully healed by mid-October. The NLCS started on 10/17 last season. Hmmmm. But we’re talking about a guy who only just started playing catch, at least publicly, and who isn’t going to be thrown right back into left field and certainly won’t be behind the plate.
Because the playoff rosters can be manipulated prior to each round, the only scenario that seems even remotely possible is that Schwarber could be activated to DH and pinch-hit if the Cubs make the World Series. Again, that’s a big if. And with a medical staff that has traditionally been very conservative when it comes to rehab and clearance, the odds are stacked against the War Bear. He cares little for those odds, though, so I’m still not going to completely discount a potential return.
Okay, so this is all really cool from a conceptual, gimmicky standpoint, but can it really work? I mean, we’re talking about a guy whose only live baseball action in the last six-plus months is some BP and a few at-bats against Arizona Fall League guys. How’s he going to fare against the likes of Corey Kluber? And what able-bodied and up-to-speed teammate is he going to be taking at-bats from, not to mention the odd man out in terms of the roster? I’ll try to answer these things quickly.
First, let’s put to rest the notion that the Cubs are somehow risking Schwarber’s future by running him out there at this point. Does anyone really believe this front office would’ve held onto a guy at the deadline who they only wanted to burn up as a DH in a couple World Series games that were by no means guaranteed? Or that the Cubs don’t have far more information on Schwarber’s health and progress than any of us? Or that he hasn’t been medically cleared by one of the most renowned and respected orthopedic surgeons on the planet? Health is the last thing to be worried about.
Schwarber’s timing, on the other hand, is a very valid concern. Hitting a baseball isn’t necessarily riding a bike. The good news in all this is that he was an absolute fiend in the video and weight rooms and didn’t go wanting for effort. So he’ll be fine in terms of preparation. And from the looks of things, that wicked rip is rounding into form quite nicely too.
Schwarber walked in third AB. This is the healthiest cut he's taken in two games. pic.twitter.com/v5wrdMU4n1
— Eric Longenhagen (@longenhagen) October 24, 2016
While it’s unlikely Schwarber will be close to 100 percent from a baseball standpoint, one has to think the Cubs are banking on him being a better option than, say, Jorge Soler. The big Cuban had a nice postseason in 2015, but his late-season injury this year has left him looking like a shadow of himself. And while Soler’s career splits are basically dead even, he’s only hitting righties (like Kluber and Josh Tomlin in Games 1 and 2) at a .224 clip and has just a .749 OPS against them (.267/.812 vs. LHP) this year.
Willson Contreras is another option, especially given his reduced catching duties and the fact that he carried a .841 OPS against righties. But he’s also a valuable replacement for both of his aging counterparts should the Cubs have to go to the pen. There’s also Chris Coghlan, who has OPS’ed .869 against RHP since September. Of course, that comes from only 51 plate appearances, so we’re not exactly talking about a reliable sample.
If the Cubs indeed opt to insert War Bear as a DH, it’ll be in an attempt to catch lightning in a bottle. While his floor may be lower than those other players right now, his ceiling is higher. And he can still catch up to a mistake even if his timing is still a little off. This may be the wrong way to look at it, but the Cubs are kind of playing with house money here. They’ve managed to win even when several of their studs were floundering. Now that they’re firing on all cylinders, there’s a little leeway with which to gamble. Besides, can Schwarber really be any worse than Jason Heyward at this point?
The World Series roster won’t be finalized until Tuesday morning, so it’s possible this is all just a massive head-fake meant to throw the Indians off. I can’t imagine Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer going to such great lengths in the name of gamesmanship, though, so I’m saying this is legit. Which means removing someone else from the roster. I had mentioned earlier that Schwarber would usurp Soler’s potential DH role, but I think you’ve got to keep the big man around for platoon moves.
Then there’s the possibility that the Cubs could swing back to an 11-man bullpen and remove Rob Zastryzny from the roster. With a .268 team batting average (sixth in MLB) against lefties, one might be inclined to think the Cubs wouldn’t need another southpaw. Ah, but Cleveland’s .748 OPS is way back in 15th. Being this late in the playoffs could necessitate more arms and the DH means less of a need for extra bats off the bench for pinch-hitting purposes.
All that said, I think Coghlan ends up being the casualty here. He’s only gotten five plate appearances in 10 playoff games and has only reached base once (IBB in NLCS Game 1), so it’s not like the Cubs would be losing a difference-maker. He’s a lefty bench bat whose role becomes somewhat obsolete with Schwarber in the lineup and Javy Baez pushing the switch-hitting Ben Zobrist to left field. Even if we’re talking about only the two games in Cleveland (which we are, since the Cubs will win in 5), Schwarber will rack up more PA’s than Cogs has thus far.
There’s really no empirical reason for me to believe this move is going to work out, so it’s simply my irrational love for the War Bear convincing me that he’s going to demoralize the Indians with a moon shot in his first AB. Lest we forget, he collected his first career hit (a triple down the line in right) and first homer (oppo shot) as a DH in Cleveland last season. All I know is that I’ll be screaming giddily from somewhere in standing-room when Schwarber makes his return.
Sometimes, truth really is stranger than fiction.