No player or story has been bigger for the Cubs in the World Series than Kyle Schwarber. Expected to miss the entire season after tearing ligaments in his left knee in an outfield collision in early April, the burly slugger has instead shocked the baseball world by getting back on the field just six months after surgery and in time for the Fall Classic. Plugged into Chicago's lineup as the designated hitter for Games 1 and 2 in Cleveland despite not seeing a live MLB pitch since April 7 and not collecting a single hit in his short 2016 season, Schwarber has picked up three hits and driven in two—a historic and impressive achievement for a young player who was an integral part of the Cubs' postseason run last year.
With the World Series shifting to Chicago for Games 3, 4 and 5 at Wrigley Field, Schwarber and the Cubs now face a dilemma. How will the team keep his impact bat in the lineup without the benefit of the DH? Will manager Joe Maddon put a strain on both Schwarber's surgically repaired knee and his own defense by starting him in the outfield? In his post-Game 2 column on Schwarber's improbable comeback, Sports Illustrated senior baseball writer Tom Verducci tried to get an answer on those questions and more as to how Chicago will go forth with Schwarber.
Assuming Schwarber is cleared to play defense—he has already hit and run the bases and is cleared to slide, so playing leftfield is hardly a stretch—expect him to be in the lineup when ground-ball specialist Kyle Hendricks starts Game 3. The Cubs will place him under orders to manage the risk of another collision, be it with another fielder or a wall—in short, to “play smart.” Schwarber, according to team sources, then is more likely to be deployed as a pinch-hitting specialist in Games 4 and 5 at Wrigley, when fly-ball pitchers John Lackey and Jon Lester are on the mound.
Even a fully healthy Schwarber, never mind one recuperating from knee surgery, is a defensive liability. Compromising what could be a busy defensive position behind fly-ball pitchers—with second baseman-turned-leftfielder Ben Zobrist having to move to right—is a risky strategy.
Verducci also dove into the details of Schwarber's injury, recovery and return.
All summer, Schwarber made himself a part of the team as much as he could. He sat in on scouting report meetings and game planning meetings. He sat in with president Theo Epstein as an advisor of sorts for the amateur draft. He also circled Monday, Oct. 17 on his calendar. That would be the day of his six-month, post-surgery checkup.
When the day arrived, the Cubs were in the NLCS against the Dodgers, and right before Schwarber headed to the Los Angeles airport for a flight to Texas, he told [catcher David] Ross, “I’m going to see the doctor and he’s going to tell me I’m good to go. I’ll see you at the World Series.”
For more on Schwarber's impact in this World Series and how he's become a key part of Chicago's title chase, check out Verducci's column. For more coverage on the Cubs, head over to SI.com's Cub Hub, your one-stop shop for all things North Side.