Return to Cleveland means return of Cubs' X-factor

Schwarber, who solved Kluber, Miller in Gm 1 and led Chicago in Gm 2, back as DH

Return to Cleveland means return of Cubs' X-factor

CLEVELAND -- The Cubs' X-factor in this World Series was a non-factor in three games at Wrigley Field. Kyle Schwarber, limited to pinch-hit duty by a surgically repaired left knee, took one swing in Chicago's 26 innings at bat, producing a broken-bat flare to second with the bases empty in the eighth inning of Game 3.

Now, Schwarber will be a factor again. With the Series shifting back to Progressive Field for Tuesday's Game 6, Schwarber will transform from cheerleader back into designated hitter. It's a role he filled ably in Games 1 and 2.

"It was almost an advantage for us to play there [in Chicago]," said Indians second baseman Jason Kipnis. "When you put him back in the DH, he's a good hitter. He's a great hitter, actually. In the playoffs, he's shown that [he can] not make the situation too big. It makes them a tougher lineup, for sure."

Game Date Matchup Highlights
Gm 1 Oct. 25 CLE 6, CHC 0 video
Gm 2 Oct. 26 CHC 5, CLE 1 video
Gm 3 Oct. 28 CLE 1, CHC 0 video
Gm 4 Oct. 29 CLE 7, CHC 2 video
Gm 5 Oct. 30 CHC 3, CLE 2 video
Gm 6 Nov. 1 CHC 9, CLE 3 video
Gm 7 Nov. 2 CHC 8 CLE, 7 (10) video

Or as Indians Game 6 starter Josh Tomlin put it: "I mean, you're essentially taking out the worst hitter in the lineup and putting in one of the better hitters in the lineup. So it's definitely different."

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The 23-year-old Schwarber, an Ohio native, gave the Cubs a lift at the start of the Series just by making the roster. He was hitless in the regular season, felled in the Cubs' third game by a devastating left knee injury that was supposed to sideline him until 2017 Spring Training. Instead, there was a promising checkup during the National League Championship Series, which led to a two-game stint in the Arizona Fall League, which led to Schwarber batting fifth in Game 1 of the World Series.

After fighting back tears during the national anthem, Schwarber showed he was ready. He struck out against Indians ace Corey Kluber in the second inning but doubled off the wall in his second at-bat. In his third trip to the plate, Schwarber did something only one other left-handed hitter had done all season: He worked a walk from Indians lefty Andrew Miller.

In Game 2, Schwarber hit a pair of RBI singles and walked again in a 5-1 Cubs win.

"I've never seen anything like it," said Jake Arrieta, the winning pitcher in Game 2 and the Cubs' scheduled starter for Game 6. "I remember hearing [Hall of Famer John Smoltz] comment on the broadcast -- and this guy played for 20 years -- he said he's never seen anything like it.

"For a guy to be able to do something like this in his second year is just ... you know ... I'm kind of speechless."

Maddon on Schwarber playing DH

The return of the DH is also convenient for the Indians, who will not have to force Carlos Santana into left field, where he started Games 3 and 5, or first base, where he played Game 4.

• Return to AL rules boosts Tribe's lineup, defense

Schwarber will be playing in somewhat familiar territory when the World Series shifts back to his home state. He grew up in the Cincinnati suburb of Middletown, a few hours' drive southwest of Cleveland. He's made headlines in recent days for his Ohio ties when former Buckeyes star Braxton Miller, now a wide receiver for the Houston Texans, shared a photo from when he and Schwarber met on the gridiron in high school.

The return of Schwarber could help the Cubs overcome what has historically been an advantage for American League teams. Each year represents a small sample, but the DH for the AL team has produced a higher OPS than the DH for the NL team in 20 of the 35 World Series with the DH in play, including each of the past four. The last NL DH to top his AL counterpart was the Cardinals' Lance Berkman in 2011, whose 1.038 OPS beat the Rangers' Michael Young's .974.

Schwarber reaches three times

One of the exceptions featured the Indians in 1997, when the Marlins' Jim Eisenreich, Cliff Floyd, Darren Daulton, Alex Arias and Kurt Abbott combined for a 1.404 OPS from the DH spot, topping Cleveland's David Justice at .582.

For a larger sample size, one can compare the regular-season production of the players who served as their teams' primary DH in the World Series. In this exercise, the NL team's DH had a clearly better season than the AL team's DH in nine of 35 seasons, most recently in 2014, when the Giants' Mike Morse had an .811 OPS, versus the Royals' Billy Butler at a .702 OPS. This year, of course, the latter exercise does not work. Schwarber had five plate appearances before his outfield collision with Dexter Fowler on April 7.

However, go back a year and you get an idea. Against right-handed pitching in 2015, Schwarber was a force. He hit .278, posted a .396 on-base percentage and slugged .557. Cleveland is scheduled to start right-hander Kluber on short rest in a potential game 7, following the righty Tomlin in Game 6.

Tomlin on facing Schwarber

"It gives them a little more balance," Indians manager Terry Francona said of the Schwarber factor. "It gives them some thunder that they'll situate right in the middle, which you have to respect. But I mean, they've got a lot of other good bats, too. I think people can get carried away with some things. Again, we respect him, but we also respect the other guys, too.

"But I'm sure they're excited about being able to play him and having his bat in the lineup."

Francona was right.

Francona on facing Schwarber

"I'm a much bigger fan of the National League game in general," Cubs manager Joe Maddon said, "but under these circumstances where we are right now in the year, I'll take that American League game just to get 'Schwarbs' involved."

Adam McCalvy has been a reporter for MLB.com since 2001. Follow him on Twitter @AdamMcCalvy, like him on Facebook and listen to his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.