My plan for driving back to Chicago from Arizona was to walk in the door of my house right about the time of the first pitch Thursday night. Thanks to long construction delays around Springfield, Illinois, that was delayed about 20 minutes. And so it was that one of the very first things I saw on my TV when I turned the Cubs/Diamondbacks game was this:
That didn't look good at the time and it almost certainly isn't good. The Cubs crushed the Diamondbacks 14-6 but in the process, might have lost Kyle Schwarber to a knee injury:
#Cubs Schwarber being evaluated for sprained left ankle. Initial X-rays negative. MRI sked for tomorrow— Carrie Muskat (@CarrieMuskat) April 8, 2016
More on #Cubs Schwarber: The MRI on Friday will include his left knee— Carrie Muskat (@CarrieMuskat) April 8, 2016
I'm no medical expert and will of course defer to them, but it looks to me as if Schwarber could be out for a couple of months. Let's hope there's no knee ligament tear, because that could make his absence even longer. Later in this article, I'll have some speculation about how the Cubs could replace him, but first, let's at least talk about this wild game.
John Lackey's Cubs debut wasn't a strong one. He managed to gut out six innings, but got hit hard in the first three. He let Jean Segura -- who hit six home runs all last year -- hit a pair of homers, the second coming inside-the-park on the Schwarber collision with Dexter Fowler. (Fortunately, Fowler suffered no injury on the play.) The eight-hit barrage is something Lackey will certainly not want to remember or repeat.
But every time the D'backs went ahead, the Cubs came back, the biggest rally coming in the fourth inning with the team down 6-4. Addison Russell doubled and Dexter Fowler tripled him in. Fowler's been torrid his first three games, going 7-for-12 with a double, a triple and a homer. Later in the inning, Jason Heyward walked, stole second and later in the same at-bat, Fowler scored on a wild pitch. Anthony Rizzo tripled in Heyward and then this happened:
That was the Cubs' first challenge and first winning challenge of the season. On the play, Rizzo scored the final run of the inning.
Cubs pitching, including Lackey, settled down after that. Pedro Strop, Travis Wood and Hector Rondon threw three innings of scoreless relief, and the Cubs tacked on four more runs in the ninth, including Rizzo's second homer of the year, a three-run job off almost-Cub Randall Delgado, giving him six RBI for the game, the third six-RBI game of his career.
Everyone hit; six of the eight starting position players (except Schwarber, who walked in his only plate appearance before the injury, and Miguel Montero, who went 0-for-6 in his former home park) had hits and scored runs. Rizzo and Kris Bryant had three hits each and Rizzo, Heyward and Ben Zobrist scored three times each.
The Cubs have 29 runs scored and 17 walks in the first three games, and I won't get into silly "paces" at this time of year, but that's a tremendous offensive output for any three games at any time during the season.
The Cubs are 3-0 for the first time since 1995. I mentioned on Tuesday that there have been just 22 seasons since 1900 when a Cubs team started 2-0. That group shrinks to 15 now, just 15 times a Cubs team has been 3-0 after its first three games (since 1900). If the Cubs can win tonight, they will join a much more selective group. Here are all the Cubs teams that have been 4-0 after for games (since 1900): 1908, 1934, 1958, 1969, 1995.
One of those years turned out pretty well, I'd say,
Now, let's talk about who might replace Kyle Schwarber on the active roster. Javier Baez might be the obvious choice (he's eligible as of Saturday), but he's had another setback in his return from a spring-training thumb injury:
Baez, who suffered a left thumb bruise March 20, hasn't played for several days after a pitch grazed his helmet in a game at extended spring training in Arizona.
"He has not progressed a whole lot," manager Joe Maddon said before Thursday night's game against the Diamondbacks. "He got brimmed."
Maddon said the setback cost him valuable time needed before he's cleared to return.
"I doubt it," Maddon said of Baez's return on Monday against the Reds.
Baez is eligible to come off the 15-day disabled list Saturday but will stay in Arizona.
Bryant played left field Thursday after the Schwarber injury with Tommy La Stella at third base but that's not likely to be an everyday option. Jorge Soler could get the full-time gig with Matt Szczur filling in defensively in the late innings. But who replaces Schwarber on the 25-man roster?
There are only five position players on the 40-man roster who are both a) healthy and b) not already in the big leagues: Willson Contreras, Jeimer Candelario, Dan Vogelbach, Arismendy Alcantara and Munenori Kawasaki.
No, it's not going to be Vogelbach, so stop.
Contreras and Candelario both need time in Triple-A for their development, so I doubt it'll be either of them. It won't be Albert Almora, either -- for one thing, he's not on the 40-man, and for another, he also needs Triple-A at-bats, not sitting on the big-league bench. It probably (at least for now) won't be someone from outside the organization, either.
That means we're really talking about a 25th-man type, either Alcantara or Kawasaki, both of whom have major-league experience and both of whom can play multiple positions. Alcantara has played the outfield. Neither can hit much, but that's not what you look for in a 25th man.
So that's what I'd expect -- for Schwarber to be placed on the 15-day disabled list and either Kawasaki or Alcantara recalled. Both have options and can be recalled or sent down freely this year.
All we can do is hope the injury isn't serious and that Schwarber can return soon. Fortunately, this team has been built with versatility in mind and so while they'll miss Schwarber's bat, the Cubs have players that can fill the void.
Meanwhile, the daily grind of the season continues. Jason Hammel will face the D'backs Robbie Ray, tonight at 8:40 CT.