Cleveland Indians: The Impact of a Schwarber Return on the Tribe

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Apr 7, 2016; Phoenix, AZ, USA; Chicago Cubs outfielder Kyle Schwarber bats in the second inning against the Arizona Diamondbacks at Chase Field. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports
Apr 7, 2016; Phoenix, AZ, USA; Chicago Cubs outfielder Kyle Schwarber bats in the second inning against the Arizona Diamondbacks at Chase Field. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports /
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The Chicago Cubs may be getting a slugger back from injury for the World Series. What impact could this addition have on the Cleveland Indians?

One of the biggest names of the 2015 postseason for the Chicago Cubs could be making a return, as reports are swirling that Kyle Schwarber could be a late addition to the roster for the World Series against the Cleveland Indians. Final roster decisions will not be announced until Tuesday.

Schwarber suffered full tears of both the MCL and LCL in his left knee in Chicago’s third game of the season, back on April 7th, when collided in the outfield with Dexter Fowler. He underwent surgery and was pronounced out for the season.

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But in the past week, rumors began to circulate that the fourth pick in the 2014 MLB draft might be able to prove that pronouncement wrong, and then he showed up in uniform for the Mesa Solar Sox of the Arizona Fall League.

Schwarber will be serving as designated hitter for the Solar Sox on Monday, and plans to fly to Cleveland to join the Cubs afterwards. Given the fact that the Indians have home-field advantage in the series, as many as four games could be played at Progressive Field, and the designated hitter role will be in play.

So what would Chicago adding Schwarber mean to the Tribe? We’re talking about a player who hasn’t seen anything close to resembling major league pitching in over six months, with a knee that hasn’t been tested at the speed of the big league game.

And it’s not as though the Cubs don’t have other options for the DH spot. As Dave Cameron of FanGraphs points out, given the likelihood of Jon Lester and Jake Arrieta pitching Games One and Two in Cleveland, Willson Contreras will not be the starting catcher in either (Lester uses David Ross as his personal catcher, Arrieta uses Miguel Montero in the same role).

Contreras hasn’t done much in the postseason outside of putting up a .400/.429/.550 slash line with a home run, four runs scored, and four driven in. He’s been arguably the club’s best hitter, so he needs to be in the lineup.

Contreras is not the only option that manager Joe Maddon has, either, with some combination of Jorge Soler, Chris Coghlan, Albert Almora, Ross, and Montero also available. Would Schwarber at 100 percent health be an upgrade over those names? Absolutely. But that’s not what we’re dealing with here.

All of that said, though, there is evidence, albeit from an enormously small pair of sample sizes, that Schwarber could have a positive impact against Cleveland.

The first is his track record from the 2015 postseason, in which he introduced the term “Schwarbomb” into the baseball lexicon. In 31 plate appearances over nine games that covered the Wild Card game, the division series, and the NLCS, the Indiana University product slashed .333/.419/.889 with five home runs and nine RBIs.

Had he been putting up those numbers this year, he would lead the team in longballs, RBIs, and slugging, as Chicago has had its share of struggles at the plate.

In addition to what Schwarber did in last year’s playoffs, there is also the matter of how well he hit against the Indians. During an interleague series played last June in which he made his major league debut, Schwarber went 6-for-14 against the Tribe, good for a .429/.429/.786 slash line, hitting his first career home run and driving in four.

The final two games of that series were played at Progressive Field, and that’s when he did his damage to Cleveland pitching, including a home run and a single off Danny Salazar and a base hit against Bryan Shaw. It’s so small a sample size that nothing can really be inferred from it, but the playoffs are a small sample size, and unlikely things happen all the time.

Next: Position-by-Position Breakdown of the Tribe and Cubs

We’ll find out soon enough whether Schwarber will be a part of the Cubs offensive attack against the Indians or not. And while the potential impact he could make on the series is anyone’s guess, based on his limited track record against the Tribe and in the postseason, he’s certainly a threat to produce at the plate. Schwarber’s presence would mean one more weapon Cleveland would have to contend with if it hopes to knock off Chicago.

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