For the entire 2016 postseason, the Chicago Cubs’ Kyle Schwarber and Cleveland Indians’ Danny Salazar have been like the rest of usspectators.

When the World Series launches Tuesday at Progressive Field, that could change.

Rosters won’t be set until Tuesday morning. There are strong indications, however, that both players could see action.

If they do, you’re looking at a couple of compelling comebacksand significant X-factors.

Let’s begin with Schwarber, who hasn’t played in a big league game since tearing the ACL and LCL in his left knee on April 7:

Schwarber was the fourth overall pick by Chicago in 2014 and posted an .842 OPS with 16 home runs in 69 games as a rookie last season. The Cubs notched 103 wins then plowed through the first two postseason rounds without him in 2016, but he was supposed to be an offensive cog.

Could that happen now, at the eleventh hour, on baseball’s brightest stage?

He took three at-bats Saturday with the Mesa Solar Sox of the Arizona Fall League. He went hitless, but there were positives. Here’s a sketch of the performance from an unnamed American League scout, per’s Christopher Crawford:

The timing is just a little bit off. But that’s to be expected; this guy hasn’t played in a game since April. He still showed quality bat speed, he appeared to recognize pitches well, and he’s always a threat with the long ball. As talented as this young man is, it wouldn’t surprise me at all if he’s ready to contribute with the bat in a couple of days.

Before the Cubs punched their World Series ticket with a 5-0 win over the Los Angeles Dodgers on Saturday, president of baseball operations Theo Epstein noncommittally cracked the door on a Schwarber return.

“We’ll see where this goes,” Epstein said, per CSN Chicago’s Patrick Mooney. “We’re not getting ahead of ourselves. We have a lot of work to do here before this becomes pertinent on a short-term basis. But it’s a testament to how hard Kyle has worked to even be in this position where it’s a possibility.”

Schwarber won’t play regularly in the field. The Cubs are set at every position and have the defensive flexibility to mix and match in the late innings as needed.

But as a left-handed bat off the bench and perhaps a designated hitter in the AL-park games? What a tantalizing option.

The Cubs don’t need Schwarber, as they’ve demonstrated all year.

After an MVP-caliber season, Kris Bryant owns a .948 postseason OPS. Second baseman Javier Baez is throwing himself a superstar coming-out gala as he dazzles with the lumber and the leather. And first baseman Anthony Rizzo showed signs of emerging from his October hibernation with four hits in the final two games of the National League Championship Series, including two doubles and a home run.

Others, however, including right fielder Jason Heyward (.071/.133/.179 playoff slash line) have been virtual non-entities. This Chicago lineup has holes. Plus, it’s about to face a Cleveland pitching staff that sports a 1.77 postseason ERA, tops among the 10 qualifiers.  

Having Schwarber on the roster would also provide an emotional boost to a young, hungry club that’s riding a cresting wave. Imagine the decibel level if he were announced at Wrigley Field, let alone got a key knock. It would rattle the rocks in the depths of Lake Michigan.

As important as Schwarber could be for the Cubs practically and symbolically, Salazar could be even more impactful for Cleveland.

So far, the Tribe has cruised despite losing Salazar and Carlos Carrasco prior to the playoffs. That’s two of the team’s top three starters, gone.

Carrasco, who suffered a broken hand in late September, was placed on the 60-day disabled list and won’t be available. 

Salazar, however, could pitch for the first time since Sept. 9, when he went down with a strained forearm muscle. He tossed a side session Oct. 20 and drew encouraging words from his skipper.

He threw the ball really well,” said Indians manager Terry Francona, per Paul Hoynes of “He let it go, which is good. He really let it go. He threw his changeup with some arm speed.”

On Sunday, Salazar threw a three-inning simulated game, and it “looks like” he’ll be on the World Series roster, according to Chris Assenheimer of the Chronicle-Telegram.

Will he start?

Corey Kluber should be the Game 1 starter, followed by Josh Tomlin, whose 2-0 record and 2.53 ERA in these playoffs have been a godsend for Cleveland.

After that, the picture is murky. Trevor Bauer remains a question mark after re-aggravating his drone-sliced finger in Game 3 of the American League Championship Series. Rookie Ryan Merritt, the only left-handed starter in the mix, is a possibility. Butas much as he showed in his scoreless, 4.1-inning start in Game 5 of the ALCS—it’s risky to bank on a kid with only two big league starts under his belt.

Rust is a concern for Salazar. He’s got great stuff when he’s right, however, including a fastball that touches the upper 90s and a devastating changeup against which opposing batters hit just .127 this season. 

The 26-year-old All-Star misses bats, as evidenced by his 10.6 strikeouts per nine innings. Strikeouts aren’t the Cubs’ kryptonite the way they were in 2015. But Salazar would be a potent weapon regardless.

He may not be able to go more than a few innings at a time, either as a starter or out of the bullpen. Thus far, that’s been all Cleveland has needed with ALCS MVP/postseason demigod Andrew Miller and closer Cody Allen waiting to finish the job.

Even the best players face an adjustment period after returning from injury. It’s a lot to expect either Schwarber or Salazar to carry much weight. Schwarber, in particular, has missed a ton of time, and it’s not as if his MLB resume is that extensive to begin with.

The World Series, though, is when unexpected heroes rise and implausible storylines unspool.

There’s so much to watch for in this clash of long-suffering franchises, whose combined championship droughts add up to 176 years. Add Schwarber and Salazar’s respective comebacks to the list.

From spectator to stud—has a nice ring, doesn’t it?


All statistics current as of Sunday and courtesy of and FanGraphs unless otherwise noted.

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