By James Fegan
In the wake of Kyle Schwarber’s improbable, yet undeniably triumphant return to action in the World Series, which last found him rapping a pair of RBI singles in the Cubs 5-1 victory in Game 2 Wednesday, there is a pernicious narrative arising.
It’s particularly directed at familiar analyst targets – Pete Rose and Harold Reynolds, who were among the most vocal – but really there’s a backlash coming against anyone who doubted that Schwarber could step in after over six months away from big league action, and be his old fearsome self.
Don’t give into it.
Not that there isn’t some truth to it. The Cubs have beaten the whole league by placing more faith in Kyle Schwarber than the rest of the baseball world. They leapt at the chance to pick him fourth overall in the 2014 Draft, far sooner than any prognosticators had him going. When no one could agree on what defensive position he would play, the Cubs were singularly convinced that his bat was so special that it would simply not matter, even in the National League. As such, when the Cubs were convinced that Schwarber was ready for action in the World Series, it behooved us all to give them a bit of benefit of the doubt.
But still, it was only right to doubt that Schwarber could do this. It was logical to doubt this. This is miraculous stuff. This doesn’t happen, even among the best baseball players in the world, and we should appreciate it for all that it is.
There’s a reason major leaguers go on weeklong rehab stints in the minor leagues even when they miss so much as a month. There’s a reason 2014 holdouts Stephen Drew and Kendrys Morales posted disastrous, career-worst seasons when they skipped Spring Training and tried to jump back in against major league action. It’s because regaining the timing, the comfort, the ability to recognize, track and produce against major league pitching is an obscenely difficult. Even with the advanced preparation techniques that major league teams have at their disposal, this is supposed to take weeks, or even a month.
— Chicago Cubs (@Cubs) October 27, 2016
And yet what Schwarber is doing is still more difficult than any prior example I could provide. It’s an unprecedented absence – as you’ve no doubt heard, he’s the first player to record a hit in the playoffs after not getting one in the regular season – and he’s facing the cream of the crop in high-leverage at-bats: Corey Kluber, Andrew Miller, Bryan Shaw, pitchers that dominated juggernaut offense in Boston and Toronto – and has been instantly dominant, reaching base five times in nine trips to the plate. He’s done that, and he might not even be all the way locked in yet.
Kluber snuck a high inside fastball by him in his first at-bat Tuesday night that he might have been able to turn on if he was in midseason form, and he fouled off a curveball from Trevor Bauer Wednesday that he might have dropped into the Cuyahoga River if he squared it up right.
These are minor quibbles, missed opportunities any hitter might pile up over a game, let alone someone who has been facing live game pitching for less than a week, but that’s the trick of Schwarber’s return. He’s made the unprecedented seem mundane, and turned the question of whether he could produce at all, to a question of whether there’s a way to shove his immediately elite bat into more to just pinch hit appearances as the series shifts to Wrigley Field.
It turns out there isn’t. Schwarber has not been medically cleared to play in the field for Games 3-5, but you can forgive people for asking. After all, this is a man who’s cornered the market on the unlikely and improbable in this World Series.
Now we’ll just have to settle for seeing him produce those incredible moments in a pinch hitter role for the next three games.
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