Kyle Schwarber is not the best player on the Cubs roster. He's not the best hitter. He's not the best fielder. He's not the most consistent. He's not the most dependable. Yet.
But when the former Indiana Hoosier got his permanent call-up in July, the Cubs didn't need a best player, or consistency. They needed a spark.
With only a one-game lead for the second Wild Card spot on July 21, a few days after Schwarber was called to the show, the Cubs found themselves in a dog fight in Cincinnati. Down 4-2 going into the 9th inning, Chicago appeared to be headed for their 6th loss in nine games. Then, a Schwarber bomb. 12 hit a monster to right field to tie the game.
In extra innings? A Schwarber bomb. With two swings, Schwarber, for a night, had stopped the skid.
It would be too fairy-tale like for those two swings to have been the cure--even too fairy-tale like for Schwarber, who ascended to the majors quicker than Frank Underwood stole the presidency in House of Cards. And in fact, those two swings weren't the cure.
Four days later, the Cubs were no-hit, breaking a 7,920 game streak of putting at least one hit on the board.
The next day, they lost again to bring a horrifying sweep at the hands of baseball's worst team, the Phillies, to a merciful end.
But right after that sweep that seemed to show that the young Cubs were in over their heads in a wild card race, they rattled off 15 wins in their next 18 games, which included a 4-game sweep of the Giants. It was easily the best stretch of the season for the Cubs. And the key, in my mind at least?
Kyle Schwarber. For most of the season, Manager Joe Maddon had been tinkering with his lineup, not sure who to hit where, except for the pitcher 8th. The Cubs best hitter, Anthony Rizzo, had been in and out of the two-spot, an uncomfortable spot for him and Cubs fans. Sometimes Kris Bryant hit right behind him, sometimes Chris Coghlan did. Those are not the same thing.
But when Schwarber came along, and became a regular starter at the end of July and beginning of August, he settled in the two-hole pretty early and never left once he showed he owned it.
Maddon likes to hit the pitcher 8th because a positional player batting 9th can serve as a second leadoff man if things work out just right. What he's been able to build with Schwarber is a lineup that essentially has three leadoff men and two cleanup hitters, one of whom is Schwarber who, even though it's not actually the case, seems to drive in Dexter Fowler every time he comes to the plate.
I am not naive enough, or blinded by my love of Schwarber enough, to say that the Cubs would not have made the playoffs without him. But I'm not sure they'd be as big of a threat without him. For half the season, we saw that the Cubs lineup had a glaring hole that no one seemed to be able to fill. And although he's had a slump or two along the way, when the matchup favors a lefty and 12 is in the lineup, that hole won't be.
Schwarber has already been a great ambassador for Indiana baseball, and we'll all tell stories about him until we're old and gray. And if he has some magic left in that bat and can become a playoff folk hero for the Cubs, he'll be a legend who will never be forgotten.