By Steve Silverman
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Ooh, the Chicago Cubs lost the first game of the World Series, so it’s all over for destiny’s darlings, right?
It is if you follow the Twitterverse. But have no fear. The North Siders are still in pretty good shape even though they absorbed a 6-0 defeat at the hands of the Cleveland Indians and ace right-hander Corey Kluber on Tuesday night.
The Indians played razor-sharp baseball in beating the Boston Red Sox and Toronto Blue Jays in the American League playoffs. They will be difficult to topple because they have a dominating bullpen led by ex-Yankee Andrew Miller. However, the Cubs came in as favorites for a reason, and one loss to Cleveland’s ace changes nothing.
The Cubs have a powerful offense led by likely MVP Kris Bryant, Anthony Rizzo, Addison Russell and Javy Baez. However, the offense has gotten a surprising lift from the return of slugger Kyle Schwarber.
Injured during the first week of the season when he collided with teammate Dexter Fowler in the far reaches of left-center field during a game at Chase Field in Arizona, Schwarber missed the rest of the 162-game odyssey with two torn ligaments in his knee.
From the moment the injury occurred April 7, the thought process was that Schwarber would be able to return, but not until spring training.
That was the official word and Schwarber understood it, but he never let up in his rehab effort, and he was well ahead of schedule in the early part of the month. Schwarber passed all the exams as he returned to full health, and when he started taking swings in the batting cage without incident, he was able to take the next step.
He went to the Arizona Fall League and faced live pitching for two games. When that went well, resident genius team president Theo Epstein and cool guy manager Joe Maddon put their heads together and activated him.
While Pete Rose predicted on national television that Schwarber would strike out three times, the young slugger took his stance at the plate Tuesday night and launched a bomb of a double off of Kluber in the top of the fourth that missed going out by about two feet. The ball would have been in the stands if the wind was not blowing in, according to Hall of Famer John Smoltz, who is doing color commentary for FOX.
Brian Cashman knows just how good Schwarber is. The Yankees’ general manager did not want to trade relief ace Miller to the Indians. He wanted to trade him to the Cubs because it would have netted him Schwarber in return.
Could you imagine Schwarber in Yankee Stadium for the next dozen years or more? A left-handed, barrel-chested stud with a powerful-yet-beautiful swing. Forgive me for saying this, but when I see Schwarber at the plate, I see Babe Ruth.
Or at least I want to see Ruth. But I know I am seeing a slugger with overwhelming talent who is capable of becoming one of the game’s great power hitters.
Schwarber is going to man the designated hitter role for the Cubs in the games at Progressive Field, and Maddon will be able to use him in key pinch-hitting situations at Wrigley Field. Schwarber hit Cleveland’s best pitcher in Game 1, and the belief here is that he will put his signature on at least one Cubs victory in the series.
Chicago is a powerful team that has accomplished a lot this season. The Cubs ran away from the rest of the National League during the regular season, and they overcame tough situations against the San Francisco Giants in the Division Series and the Los Angeles Dodgers in the LCS. They are not going to roll over because the Indians feature great relief pitching and a dominating ace in Kluber.
The rest of the starting staff is quite hittable, and the more they see of Miller, the better chance they have of solving him at one point or another.
This is a seven-game series, and the Indians have their AL pedigree and home field going for them, along with a brilliant manager in Terry Francona.
For the Cubs to end up the better team on the scoreboard, they will have to depend on a potentially heroic slugger who has worked his way back from a season-long stint on the injured list.
It may just be enough to end that 108-year drought.
Follow Steve on Twitter at @ProFootballBoy