[UPDATE: The official answer to that headline question is “no.” Original post remains below.]
All postseason long, I’ve joked, “this will be great for the movie,” when things swung violently up or down for the Chicago Cubs.
It’s crutch for the dark moments and a borderline dad-joke for the bright ones, but I love the implications of a Cubs’ World Series.
With that said, I could have never imagined a better “this will be great for the movie” moment than the surprise return of Kyle Schwarber for the Cubs’ first World Series appearance in over 70 years. Although, perhaps I should have imagined what he might do once he actually returned.
In his first two big league games since April 7, Kyle Schwarber has continued his legendary October performance with three hits (including a double), two walks, and two RBI in just two games. Overall, he’s hitting .429/.556/.571 against the likes of Corey Kluber, Andrew Miller, and the rest of Cleveland staff as the Cubs’ designated hitter.
But the Cubs are heading back to Wrigley Field for three straight games and there’s no DH in the National League. So will Kyle Schwarber get into any game action outside of a stray pinch-hit appearance here or there?
It’s not quite clear.
Although Schwarber has been medically cleared to swing a bat and run the bases, he has not yet been cleared to play the field. Before absolutely anything is even considered, then (as in the strategic advantage/disadvantage of playing Schwarber in right or left field), the Cubs will have to get the all-clear from his doctor. Indeed, after Game 1 of the World Series, Schwarber himself noted that he would not be able to play … of course, things have changed a bit since then, and the door has swung ever so open.
“We’ll see where it goes. Nothing’s set in stone.”
Not only has Schwarber’s bat looked much better than expected, he has since left open the possibility of playing in the field at Wrigley, and his workout today might be the deciding factor. He, the Cubs, and his coaches discussed this issue in a variety of places (ESPN, Cubs.com, CSN Chicago, among others).
In a press conference after Game 2, Joe Maddon said that he honestly doesn’t know yet if Schwarber can play the field, as he too is waiting to hear what the doctors have to say. According to Maddon, Schwarber looks good and feels good both at the plate and running the bases and that there’s “nothing about watching him that tells me that he’s inhibited right now.”
Jed Hoyer, for what it’s worth, doesn’t sound quite as optimistic.
“We don’t want to put him at risk,” Hoyer said after Wednesday night’s victory over the Indians, per Cubs.com, which he immediately followed with glowing praise of his work at the plate. “We know that guy can face world-caliber pitching and have a double off the wall and two RBI singles and two really good walks, and even some of his strikeouts have been great at-bats. I don’t think he’s had a poor at-bat since he’s been back.”
But we – more or less – already know that his offense is up to snuff already (which is shocking). The issue is whether or not 1) he can medically be cleared to play in the field and 2) if his abilities at the plate will be enough to outweigh his limitations in the field. After all, Schwarber wasn’t an elite defender before injuring his knee and missing six months of the season, so he’s very unlikely to be even average tomorrow. Don’t get me wrong, Schwarber was an acceptable outfielder in 2015 and he will be again some day, but is Friday, October 28th that day?
Kris Bryant wouldn’t be surprised at all (and even added that they’re going to make a movie about him! – See! I’m as cool as Kris Bryant). But really, today’s workout will be the evidence we need.
According to Carrie Muskat, if Schwarber is seen shagging fly balls during batting practice, there is a chance he will play in Game 3. If not, he might just have to be a great left-handed power option off the bench, waiting for a return to the starting lineup during Games 6 and 7 in Cleveland (if necessary).
In his post-game interview, Schwarber mentioned that nothing is set in stone, but also that he hadn’t even tried to play the outfield yet. Which again goes to the broader question of should the Cubs play him, just because he’s cleared? I’m inclined to say yes, given how uniquely valuable his bat seems to be, but it’s definitely not a no-brainer given the other options on defense. [Brett: For my part, I say don’t risk it if doctors indicate there is *any* greater chance of an injury for him above what you’d expect for *any* outfielder, or alternatively, if there is significant risk that he will be brutally bad out there defensively. Teeny tiny bit greater risk for him of injury, or significant risk of terrible defense? Then just save him as a pinch hitter. I know that’s a lot less fun and useful offensively, but you risk not only further injury but also giving those runs right back.]
The conditions are cold at Wrigley in late October, it could always be drizzly, and risking any further injury would not just be a loss for 2017, it could significantly hurt the Cubs’ chances for the rest of this very series. That said, Kyle Hendricks – Friday night’s starter – has the 23rd lowest fly ball rate and the 18th lowest pull rate in all of MLB. Perhaps there won’t be too many fly balls hit in his direction anyway?
I wish I could give you more, but the truth is no one – including Schwarber, Maddon, and Hoyer – knows if he’ll play on defense just yet. But if the doctors clear him, I wouldn’t be shocked to see him back in left field, batting fifth in Game 3 of the World Series at Wrigley Field.
Either way, this really will be a great movie.