When Chicago Cubs utility man Ben Zobrist stated his desire to return to the club in July, it was unknown what sort of production he could bring to the table.
Sure, the Chicago Cubs were thrilled to be getting one of their veteran leaders back, but Ben Zobrist had not played since May 6. Even when he was playing, Zobrist put together a woeful slash line of .241/.343/.253 with a 67 wRC+ value, according to FanGraphs.
Zobrist hardly inspired during his minor league stint, either, and it seemed like a long shot that he would be able to contribute at the big-league level. Instead, the 38-year-old has been a boon since he has returned to action.
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With Javier Baez and Addison Russell both out due to injury, Zobrist has immediately stepped in and produced at a high level. As he has proven so often throughout his tenure with the Cubs, the 2016 World Series MVP has been exactly as advertised.
Silencing the critics
Initially, there was sympathy for Zobrist when he took his leave of absence. The rumor mill was swirling regarding his marital situation and it only seemed right that he be allowed to take some time to focus on his family.
After months away from the club, however, outsiders began to cry foul. There was a certain sense of skepticism that Zobrist would be allowed to miss months of the season “merely” due to divorce proceedings. Through it all, Zobrist was still a team guy. He never once bartered to retain any of his salary, willingly allowing the Cubs to use some of those funds in order to sign Craig Kimbrel.
Of course, nobody really knew what was happening, anyway. Zobrist and his wife, Julianna, appear to be working things out, rather than completing the divorce proceedings. Still, Zobrist was an unknown commodity when he was activated, particularly given that Joe Maddon stated his desire to “ease” him back into action.
Well, so much for that plan.
Since his return on Sept. 3, Zobrist has been one of the best hitters in this Cubs lineup. In 12 games, he is slashing .378/.452/.514 with a 157 wRC+ and a 24 percent line rate.
More importantly, Zobrist has helped to jumpstart the offense from the leadoff spot. The Cubs have lacked a good leadoff hitter for the entirety of this year, yet Zobrist has stepped right back into the fold to do the job magnificently.
More to prove
Zobrist has proven beyond a shadow of a doubt that he is still a vital member of this Cubs team. In fact, he is more crucial to the team’s success now than ever before.
Baez remains out with a hairline fracture in his thumb, and Anthony Rizzo will likely be sidelined for the remainder of the season. Although he has performed marvelously since being called up, Nico Hoerner will inevitably begin to struggle. Kyle Schwarber and Nicholas Castellanos can only do so much for the offense.
Suddenly, Zobrist has gone from an unknown commodity to a guy that Chicago must rely on the most down the stretch. He has a chance to help propel the Cubs to a furious finish.
If this is indeed his final season, there is no doubt that Ben Zobrist will be pushing as hard as ever to make it back to October. But regardless of the end result, his return to action has been more satisfying than Cubs fans could possibly have imagined.