The Cubs won 103 games—more than any other team in baseball—and do not have home field advantage in the World Series. You can call it unfair, ridiculous, or just plain dumb, but them’s the rules. That’s why they’ll have to beat Cleveland on their own turf in Game Six to get a chance at winning it all. Either way, Cleveland was awarded home-field advantage back in July thanks to the offensive talents of Eric Hosmer and Salvador Perez.
Reminder: neither Hosmer nor Perez play for Cleveland. Though in fairness, Corey Kluber threw a scoreless inning and Andrew Miller did get two (albeit shaky) outs. So there’s that.
Many Cub fans quickly developed an opinion on the “win the All Star game and get home field advantage in the World Series” debate, and I’ll leave you to guess where they landed on it (HINT: they’re not fans of Bud Selig). But now the series is headed back to Cleveland for Game Six, and that advantage comes with a caveat.
Sure, you get the home crowd standing and cheering every time a Cub hitter has two strikes on him. In fact, Javy Baez might get a standing ovation if he keeps to his current shenanigans. Yes, Cleveland knows every nook and cranny of their home field. And yes, getting to hit last is certainly an advantage.
But the Cubs are countering with the power of the Schwarb.
Thanks to the DH rule in American League parks, the Cubs will be able to trot out their healthy-enough-to-hit-but-not-play-the-field secret weapon: Kyle Schwarber. The Cubs high-powered offense (5 runs/game during the regular season) has been anything but in the World Series, where they’ve averaged a meager two runs per game. The pitching has been fine and the defense has been spectacular—but it’s the bats that have gone cold when Maddon has needed them most.
That has all of Cubs nation pinning their hopes and dreams on Schwarber’s thunderous bat. Sure, he only managed four plate appearances before getting injured and missing the entire season, but he’s looked good so far in the World Series. It’s a testament to his talent and his skill that he’s been able to look like a Major League hitter after being off for so long (maybe Jason Heyward needs to a little break?).
With the offense struggling to find some consistency (and some contact), Schwarber has become a symbol of hope. In just 10 plate appearances, he has 3 hits (including a double that almost left the yard), 2 RBIs, and 2 walks. Numbers like that are fit for the middle of the order on this team, especially with Kris Bryant struggling to lay off the high hard stuff or make decent contact with the breaking ball.
So here’s the wrinkle: while you’d love to have home-field advantage in the World Series, Cub fans were at ease as the team left Wrigley and headed east to Cleveland. Schwarber can only be deployed on enemy soil. In Cleveland. Thanks to that All Star game so many months ago.
It makes you wonder if Andrew Miller knew something we didn’t know when he was unable to complete his one inning of work. He allowed two singles and walked a batter before being removed in favor of the generically named Will Harris (who struck out Aledmys Diaz to end the inning). Maybe he was playing the long game, fearful to face the dreaded power of the Schwarb.
It’s not fair to put all the offensive expectations on a guy who is just trying to get his timing down. But this is Kyle Freaking Schwarber we’re talking about. The guy that used the F word when Theo Epstein asked him if he thought he was a catcher. It’s the guy that did this to a baseball. With the Cubs offense searching for consistency, power, and patience, Schwarber might just be exactly what the doctor ordered.
Advantage? We’ll just have to wait and see.
Photo courtesy of David Richard—USA Today Sports