It has been nearly four months since Ben Zobrist donned a Chicago Cubs uniform, and the team needs their veteran utility man now more than ever.
The Chicago Cubs are in the thick of yet another pennant race. Besides 2016 (when the Cubs ran away with the Central division early in the season), they’ve had to fight through difficult division rivals often fighting neck and neck with the Cubs from start to finish a lot of times. 2019 has been one of those years. So far, the Cubs have had to battle without one of their key pieces. That’s about to change.
Ben Zobrist left the Cubs due to personal reasons on May 6 and has yet to return. But after a recent preparation stint with some of the Cubs minor league affiliates, it appears Zobrist is close to returning. Cubs president Theo Epstein recently indicated that Zobrist is doing his final prep work at his home in Nashville, Tenn, and could be back to the team as soon as next homestand.
For obvious reasons, Zobrist’s return will be a shot in the arm to an inconsistent Cubs team, and they may need Zobrist to be the tone-setter they’ve lacked all season.
One of the biggest flaws the Cubs have faced all season is the rotating door that has been used at the leadoff spot in their order. The Cubs have tried several different options as their leadoff man, and have received little production.
So far, the team has trotted out Kyle Schwarber, Albert Almora, Jason Heyward, Anthony Rizzo, Ian Happ, etc. atop their order, and have yet to find someone who can produce on a consistent basis. Joe Maddon has deployed Heyward at the top of his order lately, and his numbers have immediately dropped since the change.
Enter Zobrist, who could be the answer to the Cubs puzzle. On Tuesday, Maddon indicated that he might try Zobrist in the leadoff role upon his arrival with the team.
“(Heyward) leads in that particular spot,” Maddon said via Chicago Tribune. “It doesn’t have to stay that way. When Zo comes back, it will give me something else to think about. For right now, there are not a lot of options.”
While Zobrist wasn’t exactly tearing the cover off the ball in his rehab outing (7-for-37), but he should still be an adequate option at the top of the order. Mainly, he’s worth a shot. With nobody else clicking as a leadoff man, Zobrist should provide a stable option.
Zobrist is a pro’s pro, and he’s not going to be bothered, no matter where he hits in the order. So far, we’ve seen some players on the Cubs roster falter after being promoted to lead off. Additionally, Zobrist’s career production would indicate that he should be just fine atop the order.
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Zobrist has a career .356 OBP and a .838 BB/K ratio per Statcast. At 38, he’s also coming off of a very successful 2018 campaign, where he slashed .305/.378/.440. Zobrist is still one of the best hitters on the Chicago Cubs roster, and he’s been crucial to the Cubs success over the past few seasons. For the Cubs to reach their goals in 2019, they’re going to need Zobrist to come back with a vengeance.