Chicago Cubs: Ben Zobrist’s absence and the toll it’s taken

(Photo by David J. Phillip-Pool/Getty Images)
(Photo by David J. Phillip-Pool/Getty Images) /

In a season filled with inconsistency for the Chicago Cubs thus far, being without their most consistent piece in Ben Zobrist has proved to be difficult

This 2019 season for the Chicago Cubs so far has been nothing short of inconsistent. With a 1-6 start, followed by a 2016-like stretch, and then a losing month for the first time since 2017, it’s so hard to get a feel for this group at times. So much potential, but so much on-and-off play (again). In the roller coaster the Cubs have experienced so far, not having Ben Zobrist, the guy that has always been there to calm the storm is proving to be bigger than we may realize.

Sure, Zobrist got off to a rough start this season (.241 batting average through 26 games), and when he announced a personal leave of absence to deal with his relationship with his wife, it seemed as if he needed a short-term break to work things out. However, months have gone by, and there is word from Theo Epstein he may not return at all this season. We have touched on the value he brings to the ball-club, but there still something to be said about the intangible’s the Cubs are still missing from him.

It’s no question that Daniel Descalso has been nothing short of disappointing, and Addison Russell has made some fans ask “why?” The second base position feels almost like a liability at this point, and without Zobrist to hold down the fort next to Javier Baez, there seems to be so much uncertainty. With the trade deadline approaching at the end of the month, it will be interesting to see if the front office has anything in store for second base, but that’s another story.

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Zobrist has been the glue of this team, a leader, and someone to count on. Playing for Joe Maddon in the Tampa Bay years, he is someone comfortable playing in the manager’s unconventional system. Open to moving around the field, batting in different spots, and embodying the role of a utility player, his absence makes things seem more hard-pressed.

Most players get comfortable in their one position, their usual spot in the lineup, and have trouble adjusting when their manager asks for more out of them. Actual value is found in players like Zobrist, who thrive in an ever-changing environment.

Along with his versatility, the Cubs are also missing his leadership. He’s a veteran presence, with two World Series and an MVP award to his name. He’s experienced a lot in his career and is a player to look up to.

Not even having his presence around has been a loss. Take David Ross as another example. Sure, he didn’t put up big numbers in his time with the Cubs (.203 batting average), but he brought in veteran leadership, and his work in the clubhouse may have been more beneficial to the team than his performance was.

Not only do the Cubs miss his leadership and versatility, but his consistency as well. Through the entirety of the Joe Maddon Era, if there were one Cubs player that I would count on to get a hit in a big situation, it would be  Zobrist. Not having that piece is huge. The Cubs lineup is filled with streaky bats, and having someone there to hit for average and to get on base is a necessity. Without that, the ability to manufacture runs becomes so difficult.

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The absence of Zobrist has been more monumental than it may seem, and with his return in question, the Cubs need to find a backup plan at this year’s trade deadline. No one can replace him, but trying to fill the void with a player that can contribute in more than one way will be key for this group.