What could possibly have enough power to upstage Game 6 at Wrigley Field with the Cubs on the brink of the World Series?
Perhaps only the guy who hit a ball on top of the right-field video board in the playoffs last October.
The pregame buzz before the Cubs’ Saturday night date with history was about the sudden revelation that young slugger Kyle Schwarber might be in play for the Cubs’ World Series roster after spending the last 6½ months on the disabled list.
“Obviously we have to be smart with this and weigh the risk,” said team president Theo Epstein after Schwarber was activated from the 60-day DL and scheduled to bat as the designated hitter for the Mesa Solar Sox in Saturday night’s Arizona Fall League game.
Depending on how he holds up physically and what the Cubs’ baseball evaluators say about his performance, the Cubs are prepared to add Schwarber to their World Series roster against Cleveland as a DH and pinch hitter.
The lefty-hitting Schwarber was deemed well ahead of schedule and cleared to swing the bat and run the bases during his six-month checkup Monday with his surgeon in Dallas – surprising the player and the team.
He immediately called team president Theo Epstein seeking a chance to play in the postseason, and started taking batting practice that night after flying from Dallas to join the team in Los Angeles.
“We’ll see where this goes. We’re not ruling anything in. We’re not ruling anything out,” Epstein said. “We’re not getting ahead of ourselves. We have a lot of work to do here before this becomes pertinent on a short-term basis.
“But it’s a testament to how hard Kyle has worked to even be in this position where it’s a possibility. … With as hard as Kyle’s worked and as much as this means to him and potentially to us, we wanted to give him that opportunity [after consulting with medical staff].”
Since Schwarber suffered a season-ending injury to his left knee in the third game of the season, Epstein and other team officials had repeatedly ruled out Schwarber from returning to the active roster no matter how deep their playoff run lasted.
“It’s awesome, man,” manager Joe Maddon said. “I didn’t see it coming. My conversations with him have been primarily about next year. So honestly when this all popped up the other day I was really surprised.”
Schwarber, who has taken batting practice all week — including a session of live BP against a Cubs minor leaguer on Friday — was to wear a brace on the knee and bat second in Saturday’s AFL lineup. He went 0-for-3 with a walk, lining a 340-foot ball to right-center that required a diving catch in his last at-bat in the eighth inning.
He has not been cleared to play in the field.
“It wouldn’t surprise me if he is ready,” teammate Jake Arrieta said, lauding Schwarber’s exhaustive rehab work. “It’s just in a moment like that, it’s different than working out and being in the training room and being 100 percent there. Not that he can’t be 100 percent; it’s just a little scary situation for me. But having that bat, that’s hard to turn away if he’s ready to go.”
Assuming he fares well into Sunday morning, the Cubs were considering a simulated game Sunday as a next step, with the Solar Sox idle.
“He’s a pretty special person, and a special hitter,” Epstein said. “I don’t want to get ahead of ourselves, but if it does get to a point where we think he can help us, it says a lot about his talent and his work ethic.”
As a rookie last October, Schwarber broke the Cubs’ single-postseason record with five home runs and was considered a key bat in their plans to contend this season — until tearing his ACL in an outfield collision with Dexter Fowler April 7.
Games 1 and 2, and then Games 6 and 7 of the World Series would be played in Cleveland with the DH rule in effect.
“We were looking at winter ball at some point,” Epstein said of the anticipated timeline for Schwarber’s return to playing. “We weren’t proactive. We didn’t request anything from [the surgeon].
“Just the fact that he’s gotten to this point is a testament to his character, and he’s got everyone in the organization pulling for him,” Epstein added. “No matter what happens the rest of the way, we’re proud of him that he’s at this point, and it bodes really well for next year.”