This is November, not July. And we’re much closer to Thanksgiving than baseball’s trade deadline. But in traveling back to Progressive Field, where Game 6 and perhaps a Game 7 will be played, the Cubs acquired what very well could be the difference-maker in ultimately deciding this World Series.
Just by changing venues, from NL to AL, the Cubs get to add Kyle Schwarber to their starting lineup, a very dangerous bat who now will get as many as four chances to knock a hole or two in the Indians rather than the brief pinch-hitting cameo he was allotted at Wrigley Field.
A week ago, using Schwarber at DH was an experiment, a leap of faith by the Cubs after he lost nearly seven months to knee surgery.
No longer. And with Schwarber back to boost the Cubs’ sporadic offense, they have to feel better about facing the Indians’ Josh Tomlin on short rest Tuesday night and even their ace, Corey Kluber, who would be pitching for a third time in nine days in Game 7. Not only that, but the Cubs will use Jake Arrieta on his regular turn for Game 6 and also showed Sunday night that Aroldis Chapman can be a multi-inning weapon, just like the Indians’ Andrew Miller, if Chapman is needed these next two days.
Those are some positive signs for the Cubs in their attempt to claw back from a 3-1 deficit and become the first team since the 1979 Pirates to complete their comeback on the road in Games 6 and 7.
From a historical perspective, teams with a 3-2 lead — the Indians, in this case — have a 25-39 record in Game 6, winning 39.1 percent of the time. But seven of the last 12 teams to hold that edge clinched in six, the most recent being the 2013 Red Sox.
“This is a special team, man,” Schwarber said. “We’re not going to give up. We never quit. I feel like that we’re still in control of our own destiny. If we do what we need to do, we’ll be fine. We’ve got the momentum going in there and we plan to use it.”
To some degree, maybe the pressure will be off the Cubs in Cleveland, where they won’t feel the same tension that hung in the air at Wrigley during the middle three games. While the energy surrounding the ballpark was insane, you could feel the anxiety once you walked through the gates. Not winning a World Series since 1908 will do that to a population, and the Cubs had to sense it during those surprisingly long stretches when the crowd was too nervous to do anything but sit and watch, paralyzed by fear.
Now the Cubs can play loose, already having stared down elimination Sunday night. They should have plenty of their own fans inside Progressive Field, judging by the amount of Cubbie blue in the stands for Games 1 and 2, so the place won’t necessarily be silent if things don’t go the Indians’ way.
“We’re writing our own history,” Addison Russell said. “We’re making history. Why stop? This is entertaining to us. It’s fun, and we live for this. We see a lot of challenges ahead of us and we embrace them.”
And no one more so than Schwarber, who was forced to sit and watch the Cubs lose two of three at Wrigley without making an impact because the team’s medical staff refused to clear him to play the outfield. Schwarber had only one plate appearance, popping up against Bryan Shaw in the eighth inning of Friday night’s 1-0 loss in Game 3.
But this will be a whole different story at Progressive Field, where Schwarber took his first hacks since April 7 and stunningly went 3-for-7 with a double and two RBIs.
That came after a two-day tuneup in the Arizona Fall League, a place designed for hitters to prepare for spring training in February, not alter the course of a World Series. The Indians are acutely aware of his ability to do that.
“It gives them a little more balance,” Terry Francona said. “It gives them some thunder.”
It also gives the Cubs another reason to feel confident.