Just like that, the Chicago Cubs have gone from being the darlings of Major League Baseball back to being a team that must prove it’s not eternally cursed.

The hex that has haunted the Cubs for more than a century flickered to life in the second inning of their 14-6 win over the Arizona Diamondbacks at Chase Field on Thursday night, when Kyle Schwarber had to be carted off the field after a collision with Dexter Fowler.

And now, it seems alive and well. As reported by Patrick Mooney of CSN Chicago, Chicago’s star left fielder is done for the year with significant injuries:

For now, the bright side is that the Cubs have put together a 3-0 record in convincing fashion. Against the Diamondbacks and Los Angeles Angels, they’ve scored 22 more runs than they’ve allowed.

But with Schwarber out, the Cubs are aware that keeping their momentum going just got that much tougher.

“He’s going to [be] missed,” veteran catcher David Ross told Gordon Wittenmyer of the Chicago Sun-Times. “No sugarcoating it. He’s a big part of this team.”

He’s right, you know. Though they ultimately won 97 games last season, the Cubs didn’t really find their stride until the second half of the year. Schwarber had a big hand in that, as he helped boost Chicago’s offense with an .828 OPS and 15 home runs down the stretch.

The lefty slugger kept right on hitting into the postseason. His two-run home run off Gerrit Cole helped the Cubs dispatch the Pittsburgh Pirates in the National League wild-card game. And in nine games total, he racked up a 1.308 OPS and five home runs.

That’s good stuff for a guy who was only 22 and just a year removed from being the No. 4 pick in the 2014 draft. And with Schwarber slotted to play left field alongside Fowler and Jason Heyward, it’s no wonder the Cubs felt comfortable trading lefty-hitting utility man Chris Coghlan in late February.

But right now, Cubs boss Theo Epstein must cringe when he thinks back on that decision.

Because his defense is suspect and left-handers have held him to a .481 career OPS, the one thing keeping Schwarber in the lineup was his ability to hit right-handed pitching. That’s something he showed he could do as well as anyone in 2015. He OPS’d .953 against righties and was right there with some of the top hitters in the game in adjusted offense:

Coghlan, who played more games in left field than any other Cub in 2015, could have done a strong job replicating such production in place of Schwarber. He has a .784 OPS against righties for his career and has OPS’d over .800 against them in each of the last two seasons.

With Coghlan in Oakland, the pressure to fill Schwarber’s shoes could instead fall to Jorge Soler. As Eno Sarris of FanGraphs indicates here, the Cubs could ask for a worse fate than that:

Soler was rated as one of the game’s elite prospects as recently as last year, after all, and he’s still only 24. And at various times—including last October—he’s looked like a superstar.

Overall, though, Soler is still an enigma. He was essentially a league-average hitter in hitting .262 with a .723 OPS last season. And with his long swing, there may be no fixing his career strikeout rate of nearly 30 percent.

If Soler can’t get the job done, the Cubs could fall back on Javier Baez. He’s another former top prospect, and he’s only 23 years old. And after adjustments he made to his own big swing last season, he caught our eye as a big-time wild card coming into the year.

But like Soler, Baez’s production is the yang to his potential’s yin. In 80 regular-season games, he’s hit only .201 with a .598 OPS. Worse, his career strikeout rate is just a hair under 40 percent at 38.5.

As such, Cubs manager Joe Maddon may have to get creative with how he fills Schwarber’s shoes. 

Tommy La Stella can be impacted by that as well,” Maddon said Thursday, via Jesse Rogers of ESPN.com. “There are different things you can do, offensively, defensively, where Kris Bryant can go into the outfield. That’s part of the mix, too.”

On paper, plugging La Stella in at third base and moving Bryant to left field works. But since Bryant rated as a pretty good defender at the hot corner on his way to winning the National League Rookie of the Year in 2015, it would probably be best if the Cubs kept him there.

So, though the Cubs could certainly ask for worse options to fill in for Schwarber, they don’t have any ideal options either. It’s almost as if they didn’t plan on having to overcome losing him when they finalized their plans for 2016.

No matter how they do it, though, the Cubs know it simply must be done.

“We’re going to pick him up. We’ve got some guys who can hopefully fill his place. It’ll be a tough one to fill. We’ll work through it,” first baseman Anthony Rizzo told Wittenmeyer, adding“This will be something I think that brings all of us closer.”

Or so the Cubs hope, anyway. And surely much of the baseball world is right there with them.

It’s been 108 years since the Cubs last won a World Series, but this team came into the year looking like the one destined to snap the streak. They’re projected as one of the best teams in baseball by Baseball Prospectus and FanGraphs, and you don’t need to search far and wide to find predictions of them finally winning it all.

Schwarber’s injury doesn’t make that impossible, but it at least makes it slightly more improbable. Between the present and the Cubs eventually living up to their expectations, there is no easy way.

They can either take that as a reality of being cursed or just a challenge to be accepted.


Stats courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com and FanGraphs unless otherwise noted/linked.

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