Cubs: If Anthony Rizzo can’t go, Kyle Schwarber must carry the freight
If the Cubs’ Anthony Rizzo can’t go, Kyle Schwarber must fill in for slugger in the lineup with Victor Caratini at first base.
Back issues and the Chicago Cubs’ Anthony Rizzo are certainly no strangers. So, when Rizzo had spasms flare-up two weeks ago during Summer Training, all types of questions flared up right along with it. Should the Cubs extend a guy who has had back problems on and off? Is this even going to be a big deal? Who would step in for Rizzo at first base and take his spot in the lineup should he not be able to go?
First comes first–or maybe second- with plans to bat Rizzo right behind newly minted leadoff man Kris Bryant to start the 2020 season, any potential missed time would unquestionably and severely hamper the top of the lineup. However, there is the possibility that the Cubs could cover that spot- at least for a short while- with a little help from Rizzo’s friends.
In the lineup, new skipper David Ross would probably want to slot another lefty in that two-hole behind Bryant and moving a guy who can work counts, get on base, and drive in Bryant would be paramount. Enter Kyle Schwarber. Schwarber has experience in that spot in the order, was expected to be in the middle of the order anyhow, and could fill substantially the same role as Rizzo if he hits the way he did during the second half of 2019.
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Even though it may not seem like it, Schwarber is in a very similar spot in terms of career progression through just under 1900 plate appearances. Through 1884 PA, Schwarber has hit 110 home runs, driven in 255 runs, walked 244 times and posted an OPS of 115.
In turn, Rizzo’s stats through his first 1886 plate appearances included 72 home runs, 220 RBI, 206 walks, and an OPS of 118. While Schwarber did famously lose almost all of 2016 due to his ACL injury, if 2019 told us anything, it’s that he’s finally ready to follow Rizzo’s path to consistent and stellar offensive production for the Cubs.
Of course, Schwarber filling Rizzo’s spot in the lineup doesn’t help the club fill Rizzo’s spot in the field as Schwarber is slotted to be the everyday left fielder. Enter Victor Caratini there. Caratini has spelled and filled in for Rizzo in the past and coincidentally doesn’t have a permanent spot in the lineup with two-time All-Star Willson Contreras, the starter behind the plate.
While the Cubs do have some flexibility in the lineup this season with the DH in place, Caratini might have to share the role based on matchups when not catching. If Rizzo isn’t able to go next week or at any point during the season, Caratini could fill in completely, although certainly not as well as the three-time Gold Glove winner. And, if his offensive production while healthy in 2019 rears its pretty head, the Cubs could weather short stints without their captain.
The Cubs certainly don’t want to lose their first baseman for any length of time, especially during a shortened season. But if he isn’t out for too long, here’s hoping they can plug the hole in the field and the lineup internally what they do long term with Rizzo if this back problem persists. Well, that’s a whole different conversation.