PHOENIX — The Cubs will have to push through 159 games — and survive and advance through what they hope will be a long playoff run — without Kyle Schwarber.
An MRI at a local hospital on Friday revealed a torn ACL and LCL in Schwarber’s left knee, as well as a severely sprained ankle, an awful season-ending combination of injuries for such a dynamic player.
That confirmed the worst-case fears after Schwarber crashed into Dexter Fowler while chasing a ball driven into the left-center field gap during Thursday’s costly 14-6 win over the Arizona Diamondbacks at Chase Field.
“Everyone who knows Kyle was sick watching that play,” team president Theo Epstein said. “Just devastated for him because he’s worked so hard. He’s such a great person. He’s such a great teammate. He’s such an important part of our identity and the organization that you hate to see anything bad happen to him.
“Let alone devastating news like this and not being able to play baseball for the rest of the season. My heart went out to him. All of our hearts went out to him.”
Epstein clearly has an emotional attachment to Schwarber, betting the fourth overall pick in the 2014 draft on the Indiana University catcher/outfielder at a time when the industry consensus projected him much lower in the first round as a possible designated hitter for an American League team.
The Cubs took off last year once Schwarber rocketed through the farm system, changing the complexion of the clubhouse and the lineup with his energy and left-handed power. He generated 16 home runs and an .842 OPS in less than 300 plate appearances, fueling the second half of a 97-win campaign and then delivering with five more homers in the playoffs.
“We have to follow his example,” Epstein said. “In the wake of this injury — this horrible personal news — he’s putting the team first and talking about winning and talking about staying connected to the team.
“Twenty-four hours ago, I thought we were really well positioned to win, in large part, because of Kyle’s presence on the team. And now we’re really well positioned to win for Kyle.”
The initial expectation is Schwarber will have knee surgery within the next three weeks, or as soon as the swelling and stiffness subsides. Even before this traumatic event, the Cubs hadn’t decided on his long-term future — catcher or outfielder — and it’s too soon to know if he will ever be back behind the plate again.
“It all depends,” Epstein said. “If everything goes the way we want it to go with the surgery and the rehab — and he comes out the other side with a full range of motion — there’s a chance it won’t impact him at all going forward once he’s back on the field. He (might have) the exact same physical abilities.
“But, obviously, I think what we’ll do is an assessment once he’s through the surgery, through the rehab and we’ll weigh the situation at that time. If there are additional risk factors with catching at that point, then we will reassess. But that’s not definitely the case. And it’s certainly too early to say that and probably not an appropriate time to speculate on it.
“The hope would be a very successful surgery, a very successful rehab, with the most important factor being the patient’s work ethic and determination — and Kyle is on the top of the charts as far as that goes. That will serve him well through the rehab process, and then he comes back as good as new.”
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When? As much as people around the team respect Schwarber’s hard-charging style — he had been a second-team All-Ohio linebacker in high school and got recruited to play Division-I football — the Cubs won’t know for a long time. The hope would be the 2017 Opening Day lineup.
“It’s too early to tell,” Epstein said. “We have to get through the surgery and get a better feel for the length of the rehab. But one thing that was communicated clearly is when multiple ligaments like this are involved ... it’s significantly longer than the six months that you can sometimes come back from (with an) ACL (injury).
“You can’t put an exact timetable on it, and we’ll know more later. But is, say, 10 months something that could be more realistic and would put him in a position to be on the field at the start of spring training next year?
“Well, at this way-too-preliminary date, that’s something that you could maybe speculate about. But we’ll know so much more going forward.
“We have all the faith in the world in Kyle to come through it.”