When Chicago Cubs slugger Kyle Schwarber tore his ACL and LCL on April 7 after colliding in the outfield with Dexter Fowler, it wouldn’t have been a surprise if a few fans reached for a defibrillator.
Hysteria consumed parts of a tortured Cubdom on social media, with some fans panicked that the promising Cubs’ 2016 season was trashed. But that was just an overly emotional reaction.
Chicago quickly plugged the hole in its lineup, has remained one of baseball’s upper-echelon offenses and looks just as likely to end its 108-year World Series drought as it did prior to the Schwarber injury.
Disclaimer: Of course, the Cubs are worse without Schwarber from a talent standpoint. Losing a player of his caliber would hurt any team. It would be illogical to suggest otherwise.
But great organizations don't allow injuries to derail a hopeful season.
Schwarber is more of a luxury than a necessity on this loaded Cubs roster. His loss doesn’t make them less of a contender to win the division. Winning is what counts—not the totality of talent on the roster by season's end.
The Cubs only need to look to recent history to see that a key injury isn't insurmountable, as just last year the St. Louis Cardinals lost ace Adam Wainwright for most of the campaign but still won the National League Central.
Chicago is in an even better position to lose Schwarber than St. Louis was when it lost its ace, as it can lose the 23-year-old without noticing it statistically. Heading into Monday night's game, the Cubs were second in MLB with 71 runs scored, 14 behind the Cardinals. Chicago beat St. Louis 5-0 at Busch Stadium and closed the gap between the teams. The San Francisco Giants slipped into second in runs scored with 77, but the runs are still abundant.
The hallmark of the Cubs is their depth.
Top to bottom, this lineup can hurt any team. Shortstop Addison Russell hit the go-ahead home run in the eighth inning of the Cubs’ home opener against the Cincinnati Reds. He was the team’s No. 7 hitter that night.
Monday, it was Fowler, the leadoff hitter, who smashed a home run in the sixth inning to break a scoreless tie. The 30-year-old has been a key piece in the early going, as he's hitting .378/.500/.711 with three home runs, 10 RBI and 10 runs scored.
Outfielder Matt Szczur has also provided some punch in 11 games, hitting .357/.471/.643.
Yet even as players try to fill Schwarber's void, the focus is on this offense’s untapped potential.
Right fielder Jason Heyward (.188), second baseman Ben Zobrist (.217), first baseman Anthony Rizzo (.174) and third baseman Kris Bryant (.250) have all performed terribly at the plate this season. They are supposed to be the Cubs’ best offensive players—and likely will be by the end of the campaign.
But even as they struggle, Chicago continues to score, which speaks to the quality depth on the roster.
This team is built like Game of Thrones. You may have thought the show would take a nosedive after the “Red Wedding” (non-Thrones watchers, Google “Red Wedding Game of Thrones”) when so many popular characters were killed off. But the show remained highly rated as new, interesting characters were introduced.
Schwarber went out, and promising prospect Jorge Soler assumed a bigger role.
When the Cubs signed Heyward and re-signed Fowler this offseason, Chicago relegated Soler to the bench as the fourth outfielder. After Schwarber was hurt, he reclaimed his starting spot.
Yes, Soler has started slow. His numbers dipped to .216/.311/.378 on Monday. But given the small sample size, the expectation is that Soler will return to the .262/.324/.399 hitter he was last season.
And at times, he could be the player who set an MLB record last year by reaching base safely in his first nine postseason plate appearances.
The team also recently welcomed back Javier Baez, a once highly rated shortstop prospect, who will be turned into a super-utility player to try to maximize his number of at-bats. The hole left by Schwarber will allow Baez to see starts in the outfield, and he's been spelling Zobrist at second base thus far.
The Cubs activated him from the 15-day DL on April 15 after a short rehab assignment in Triple-A Iowa, and he has made an immediate impact in eight at-bats.
After singling in the ninth inning Monday in a pinch-hit appearance, Baez saw his numbers jump to .500/.500/.625 over three games. He will need to prove he can consistently play at a high level, but in the time Schwarber has missed, Baez has been a spark plug.
There’s even more talent for manager Joe Maddon and president Theo Epstein to use.
Catcher Willson Contreras, the sport's No. 48 prospect, according to MLB.com, is expected to make his debut this season. He provides the Cubs insurance should catchers Miguel Montero or David Ross get hurt.
Schwarber, who will have surgery on his knee this week, according to Maddon (via Mark Gonzales of the Chicago Tribune), was expected to mostly play left field but also was the third catcher on the roster.
No team travels on a straight road to the playoffs. But it appears every turn leads to October for the Cubs. Emotions have settled in Chicago as the Cubs have maintained their offensive power in Schwarber’s absence.
At times this season, he will be missed. Maddon may wish he had that left-handed power to use.
But as long as the Cubs offense still plays well, it won’t matter.
No one cares who's credited with the RBI or scores the runs. The Cubs have a roster full of players who can do both.
Seth Gruen is a national baseball columnist for Bleacher Report. Talk baseball with Seth by following him on Twitter @SethGruen.