Cubs

Why Cubs won’t risk playing Kyle Schwarber in the outfield during World Series

Why Cubs won’t risk playing Kyle Schwarber in the outfield during World Series

Kyle Schwarber plays baseball with the same run-through-a-brick-wall mentality that once made him an All-Ohio linebacker in high school. The Cubs feed off that energy and the explosive power that’s already made him a legendary playoff hitter, even though he still hasn’t played a full season in the big leagues yet, and even after a layoff that lasted more than six months. 

As bad as Schwarber wanted this – and as much as president of baseball operations Theo Epstein senses the chance to eliminate the Cleveland Indians and make history – the Cubs couldn’t make such an important decision based on emotions.

After consulting with Dr. Stephen Gryzlo, the team’s orthopaedist, and Dr. Daniel Cooper, who performed the surgery on an extremely valuable left knee, the Cubs couldn’t get medical clearance to start Schwarber in the outfield for World Series Games 3, 4 and 5 at Wrigley Field this weekend.

“Of course, we’re all disappointed,” Epstein said. “We’d love to see Kyle out there getting four-plus at-bats a game. But I think it was important to talk to a medical professional, who’s objective and detached from the situation.

“We’re all wrapped up in seeing how well Kyle swung the bat and how it impacted us and the stage that we’re on and our desire to win.

“There is the possibility of us getting carried away and throwing caution to the wind. But that’s why you have to consult the doctors and follow their professional judgment.”

[MORE: Why Cubs won’t risk playing Kyle Schwarber in the outfield during World Series]

Whatever disappointment he may have felt after initially getting the news, Schwarber buried it by the time he followed Epstein into the makeshift interview room after Thursday’s workout at Wrigley Field, vowing to be ready to pinch-hit at any time and giving future Hall of Fame manager Terry Francona something to think about in the visiting dugout. 

“It’s not disappointing at all,” Schwarber said. “It was a long shot at the most. Obviously, I want to be out there for my teammates and everything. It’s just the competitor inside me. But facts are facts. I just can’t physically do it.”

Schwarber refused to concede after a full-speed collision in the outfield on April 7, attacking his rehab process with the same intensity that made him the fourth overall pick in the 2014 draft and such a force on last year’s 97-win team (16 homers in 69 games plus five more in the playoffs).

Showing virtually no signs of rust, Schwarber went 3-for-7 with two walks and two RBI as the designated hitter while the Cubs split Games 1 and 2 at Progressive Field. 

“The doctors were very convicted that there’s just too much risk in playing the outfield,” Epstein said, “because of the dynamic actions involved, the instantaneous reactions, the need to cut in the outfield, the dynamic, athletic movements that are unanticipated in the outfield. 

“This was not just an ACL tear. This was a complete blowout of his knee, multiple ligaments (involved and) an expected eight-month, return-to-play, best-case scenario.

“We have to look out for Kyle’s long-term interests. We have a lot of confidence in other guys, too. We won 103 games. We have all the faith in the world in our other outfielders. And on top of that, we now have Kyle off the bench to take maybe the most important at-bat in the game at a given point.”

One of those outfielders – Chris Coghlan – understands the big-picture concerns for Schwarber after tearing the meniscus in his left knee during an on-field pie-to-the-face celebration with the Florida Marlins in 2010. 

“That’s my biggest worry for him personally,” Coghlan said. “I rushed back and reinjured it. And I don’t say that to scare him. They got doctors. They got a million people running over it. But what he’s doing is remarkable.

“To be able to go in there and just put competitive at-bat after competitive at-bat on the biggest stage (after) being out six months and only having maybe eight at-bats (in the Arizona Fall League) – it’s just a testament to his character and his perseverance. And that’s what makes him a special player.”

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Knowing how Schwarber is wired, the Cubs probably couldn’t have cut a deal where he gave something less than a maximum effort in the outfield and conserved his body to take vicious left-handed swings. But the medical experts did not present that option. 

“There would not have been a player to be cleared under this scenario,” Epstein said. “But that said, if we had been able to clear him only under the condition that he only go 60 percent: a.) I don't think Kyle knows how to go 60 percent, especially in a World Series-type game; and b.) At 60 percent, you’re such a tremendous defensive liability, it’s probably not worth the offense that you get on the other side, anyway.

“But that wasn’t the case. It was black and white. He simply is not medically cleared to play, regardless of his effort level.”

A crowd already delirious from the franchise’s first World Series at Wrigley Field in 71 years will still create a deafening roar at the sight of Schwarber walking up to home plate with a bat in his hand.

“Deep down in my heart, I really wanted to,” Schwarber said. “But there’s obviously the doubts (about) the injury. It was a huge injury. And that’s the facts. Not many people get this opportunity that I’m in right now, so I’m embracing (it). I’m going to cheer my teammates on. And when my time comes, I’m going to be ready.”

Addison Russell is so over 2017: 'That's last year, don't want to talk about that'

Addison Russell is so over 2017: 'That's last year, don't want to talk about that'

MESA, Ariz. — “That’s last year, don’t want to talk about that.”

In other words, Addison Russell is so over 2017.

The Cubs shortstop went through a lot last year. He dealt with injuries that affected his foot and shoulder. He had a well-documented off-the-field issue involving an accusation of domestic abuse, which sparked an investigation by Major League Baseball. And then came the trade speculation.

The hot stove season rarely leaves any player completely out of online trade discussion. But after Theo Epstein admitted there was a possibility the Cubs could trade away one or more young position players to bolster the starting rotation, well, Russell’s name came up.

And he saw it.

“There was a lot of trade talk,” Russell said Saturday. “My initial thoughts were, I hope it doesn’t happen, but wherever I go, I’m going to try to bring what I bring to the table here. It’s a good thing that it doesn’t have to be that way. I’m happy being in a Cubs uniform, I want to be in a Cubs uniform, for sure. But there was some talk out there. If I got traded, then I got traded, but that’s not the case.”

No, it’s not, as the Cubs solved those pitching questions with free-agent spending, bringing in Yu Darvish and Tyler Chatwood to replace the departed Jake Arrieta and John Lackey. It means Russell, along with oft-discussed names like Kyle Schwarber, Ian Happ and Javy Baez, are all still Cubs.

While the outside world might have expected one of those guys to be moved in some sort of blockbuster trade for Chris Archer or some other All-Star arm, the Cubs’ young core remains intact, another reason why they’re as much a favorite to win the World Series as any team out there.

“I’m really not surprised. The core is still here. Who would want to break that up? It’s a beautiful thing,” Russell said. “Javy and I in the middle. Schwarber, sometimes playing catcher but mainly outfield. And then (Kris Bryant) over there in the hot corner, and of course (Anthony) Rizzo at first. You’ve got a Gold Glover in right field (Jason Heyward). It’s really hard to break that up.

“When you do break that down on paper, we’ve got a lineup that could stack up with the best.”

This winter has been about moving on for Russell, who said he’s spent months working to strengthen his foot and shoulder after they limited him to 110 games last season, the fewest he played in his first three big league campaigns.

And so for Russell, the formula for returning to his 2016 levels of offensive aptitude isn’t a difficult one: stay on the field.

“Especially with the injuries, I definitely wanted to showcase some more of my talent last year than I displayed,” Russell said. “So going into this year, it’s mainly just keeping a good mental — just staying level headed. And also staying healthy and producing and being out there on the field.

“Next step for me, really just staying out there on the field. I really want to see what I can do as far as helping the team if I can stay healthy for a full season. I think if I just stay out there on the field, I’m going to produce.”

While the decrease in being on the field meant lower numbers from a “counting” standpoint — the drop from 21 homers in 2016 to 12 last year, the drop from 95 RBIs to 43 can in part be attributed to the lower number of games — certain rate stats looked different, too. His on-base percentage dropped from .321 in 2016 to .304 last year.

Russell also struggled during the postseason, picking up just six hits in 36 plate appearances in series against the Washington Nationals and Los Angeles Dodgers. He struck out 13 times in 10 postseason games.

Of course, he wasn’t alone. That World Series hangover was team-wide throughout the first half of the season. And even though the Cubs scored 824 runs during the regular season, the second most in the National League and the fourth most in baseball, plenty of guys had their offensive struggles: Schwarber, Heyward and Ben Zobrist, to name a few.

“You can’t take anything for granted. So whenever you win a World Series or you do something good, you just have to live in the moment,” Russell said. “It was a tough season last year because we were coming off winning the World Series and the World Series hangover and all that. This year, we had a couple months off, a couple extra weeks off, and I think a lot of guys took advantage of that. I know I did. And now that we’re here in spring training, we’re going to get back at it.”

Cubs Talk Podcast: Discussing 5-man unit and where Montgomery fits into Cubs' plans

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USA TODAY

Cubs Talk Podcast: Discussing 5-man unit and where Montgomery fits into Cubs' plans

Jon Lester has arrived at Cubs camp, and he’s pleased with the new-look rotation full of potential aces. Kelly Crull and Vinnie Duber discuss the 5-man unit, and where Mike Montgomery fits into the Cubs’ plans.

Plus, Kelly and Vinnie talk Jason Heyward and Kyle Schwarber, along with the continuing free agent stalemate surrounding Jake Arrieta.

Listen to the full Cubs Talk Podcast right here: