CLEVELAND — When playing in American League parks, National League teams face a disadvantage because their rosters aren’t constructed with the designated hitter in mind. But in this World Series, the Cubs have been the exception thanks to slugger Kyle Schwarber, who is expected to be back in the lineup for Game 6 against the Indians on Tuesday.
“Under these circumstances where we are right now in the year, I’ll take that American League game just to get Schwarbs involved,” said Cubs manager Joe Maddon, who temporarily renounced his preference for the NL’s rules, all so he can squeeze an impact bat into his slumping lineup.
The Cubs face a 3-2 deficit in this best-of-seven series, needing two wins in the next two games to claim their first championship since 1908. But in Cleveland, they will do with the benefit of the designated hitter, clearing the way for Schwarber’s return to the lineup.
“It will be good,” said Schwarber, who was the DH in Games 1 and 2. “Any way that I can help out the team, I look forward to that.”
Schwarber, 23, is coming off three games in Chicago in which he was limited to only one pinch-hitting appearance. Doctors had refused to give him clearance to play the field because of the risk to his left knee. But that prohibition means nothing now that the series has come back to an American League ballpark.
Schwarber missed virtually the entire regular season recovering from surgery to repair multiple torn ligaments. He was not expected to return at all. But after a mid-October check up showed he was healing at a faster pace, Schwarber attempted a comeback after seeing just four days of live pitching.
In a stunning move, Schwarber responded well and the Cubs placed him on the World Series roster. He went 3-for-7 with two run-scoring singles and a hard double off the wall in the first two games. Despite his long layoff, Schwarber’s eye appears to be in midseason form. He also drew a pair of walks and has stunned teammates with his ability to lay off tough pitches.
With the Indians’ Josh Tomlin on the mound with a chance to end the series, Schwarber is expected to hit in the middle of a Cubs lineup that has struggled to generate runs.
“It gives them a little more balance,” Indians manager Terry Francona said. “It gives them some thunder that they’ll situate right in the middle, which you have to respect.”
Schwarber’s impact on the series in Games 3, 4 and 5 were limited by the rule. Without the DH, he pinch-hit and popped up on his only at-bat in three games.
“I knew that we were going to try to find a spot to insert me but the spot just never came,” said Schwarber, who hit .246 with 16 homers as a rookie last season. “And I’m fine with that. Now, we move onto Cleveland and hopefully I can put in some good at-bats.”
Schwarber used the three games in Chicago to further hone his batting eye. To stay prepared for pinch-hitting, he frequented Wrigley Field’s indoor batting cages. Every swing helped him make up for lost time.
“It’s definitely good stuff,” said Schwarber, who established himself as a threat when he hit .333 with five homers in the playoffs a year ago. “I’ve been in the cage, just staying hot, just trying to figure out the swing a little bit. So, it was a good time, good personal time there trying to make adjustments.”
The Cubs could use the help. They are hitting .210 in the World Series with 10 runs scored in five games. Against an Indians pitching staff that has been dominant, Schwarber’s presence will lengthen the Cubs’ lineup at the time they need it most.
Said Maddon: “It does work out well for us.”