The following two statements can be simultaneously true:
1. The Red Sox, absolutely, positively, need Kyle Schwarber's bat in the lineup every night.
2. There's no good place to play him.
When Chaim Bloom acquired Schwarber from the Washington Nationals at the MLB trade deadline, he said he believed the left-handed slugger could be the most impactful bat to change teams. And even if it took Schwarber two weeks to return from the hamstring injury that sidelined him in early July, Bloom needn't retract that proclamation.
After going 2 for 4 in Tuesday's 12-7 loss to the Tampa Bay Rays, Schwarber is hitting .325 with a Ted Williams-esque .460 on base percentage and 1.010 OPS with the Red Sox. There's little doubt his calm presence in the box has impacted the rest of the lineup, where the Red Sox have taken more pitches and limited the free-swinging approach that contributed to a 3-10 stretch after the trade deadline.
That's the good news. The trickier part of Schwarber's presence is where he plays. On Wednesday, he got the nod at first base, which meant the club's hottest hitter, defending American League Rookie of the Month Bobby Dalbec, was on the bench.
Dalbec entered in the late innings for third baseman Rafael Devers with the game hopelessly out of hand and delivered two-run homers in the eighth and ninth. In a perfect world, Dalbec wouldn't leave the lineup at all, but Schwarber has always been a bit of the proverbial square peg in round hole, and that problem is only going to be exacerbated for manager Alex Cora.
While COVID wracked the roster, Schwarber's spot in the lineup was hardly an issue. With center fielder Kiké Hernández sidelined, Schwarber could alternate between outfield and designated hitter with J.D. Martinez while starting the occasional game at first base.
Now that the Red Sox are approaching full strength -- Hernández returned on Wednesday -- Cora faces a challenge of deciding which one to sit on a nightly basis out of Schwarber, Martinez, Dalbec, and left fielder Alex Verdugo.
Dalbec should play because he's on fire. Verdugo should play because his defense in left field is too important and the Red Sox don't want him in center, where he's a clear downgrade from Hernández. Martinez should play because he's one of the key cogs in the lineup. Schwarber should play because he's the toughest out on the team.
So which is it? Cora doesn't seem to have any good answers, his response to the query ping-ponging haphazardly, but he suggested that Dalbec could be the odd man out. That would be the same Dalbec we all wanted benched at the deadline, but who is hitting .371 with nine homers and 29 RBIs over the last month.
"I mean, obviously Bobby will play against lefties; we'll pick some righties, too," Cora said. "We have to take care of the guys, too. It's not black and white. We can go different ways. The more the better. Of course, we have a lot of off days, so I don't think Raffy will get an off day just to get one unless we're in a special place the last week of the season.
"We'll play, we'll see where we're at, and we'll make adjustments, some lefties we don't play Alex and we can play Kyle in left field and Bobby at first. We'll see how they feel and we're going to take care of them. I do believe as a group, especially with what Travis (Shaw) is doing off the bench, and also having another bat off the bench from the other side is going to benefit us and we're going to be a more complete team."
It's obviously better to have too many qualified hitters than the alternative, but the final three weeks and potentially the postseason will test Cora's ability to piece together a lineup that remains an ill-fitting puzzle.