Cubs

Ben Zobrist stabilizes Cubs World Series lineup with Babe Ruth-esque performance

Ben Zobrist stabilizes Cubs World Series lineup with Babe Ruth-esque performance

When the Cubs signed Ben Zobrist, they hoped his postseason resume and veteran leadership would help stabilize a young lineup.

Nobody expected him to turn into Babe Ruth in the process.

With three hits in Game 1 of the World Series Tuesday night in Cleveland, Zobrist became only the second player ever to have three hits in the first game of a World Series in back-to-back seasons.

The other was Ruth, in the 1927 and '28 World Series.

"Unbelievable at-bats, hitting the ball hard all over the place," Kris Bryant said of Zobrist. "He's the toughest guy to pitch to right now. He's been through this before, which is huge.

"He's calm up there. He looks great. That's nice to know that every time he goes to the plate, it's gonna be a pretty good at-bat."

After his three-hit night in Game 1, Zobrist stayed hot in Game 2, collecting two more hits and a walk, including an RBI triple.

The Kansas City Royals acquired Zobrist for the stretch run in 2015, hoping he would help stabilize their lineup. The veteran switch-hitter delivered, posting an .880 OPS in 16 postseason games while leading the Royals to a championship.

Zobrist is trying to win a second straight World Series and has flipped it on at the plate on the biggest stage.

"It's just trying to realize I've been here before," Zobrist. said. "You do whatever you can to slow the moment down. I think when you've succeeded and failed at this point in the season, it loses as much of the nervousness or anxiety involved with it the first time.

"I was [in the World Series] in '08 [with the Rays] for a little bit and I got my feet wet and was able to get I think one hit that series and have some good quality at-bats and that gave me confidence last year that, 'Hey, I've been here before.'

"Yeah, there's a lot of attention right now, but it's the same game and try and slow it down and have a quality at-bat. Don't worry about the result. Take the mindset and it seems to get a little bit easier to slow things down when you have already been there before."

[SHOP: Buy a "Try Not to Suck" shirt with proceeds benefiting Joe Maddon's Respect 90 Foundation & other Cubs Charities]

Even though he's been through this before and in his sixth postseason, Zobrist struggled at the start of October, hitting .167 in 10 postseason games entering the World Series, but the Cubs felt he was getting a little unlucky, though his approach and attitude never changed.

Addison Russell took notice and saw how Zobrist continued to have professional at-bats each time up even though things weren't bouncing his way.

Joe Maddon has seen the way the Cubs young players - like Russell or Javy Baez - look up to Zobrist.

"He's such a calming influence because he doesn't get excited," Maddon said. "You watch his at-bats and they are absolutely the same all the time. You look at the ascension like of a Baez or an Addison, I know they're watching him.

"They watch how he's never in trouble at the plate. Two strikes don't bother him. He accepts his walks. I anticipate over the next couple years, you'll see our young guys working those same kind of at-bats."

Zobrist leads by example with his play on the field, but he also is a presence in the clubhouse.

As reporters crammed in the visiting locker room at Progressive Field after Game 2, Zobrist answered question after question about The Legend of Kyle Schwarber. 

At one point, he noticed the media contingent surrounding him was blocking a teammate from accessing his locker coming out of the shower.

So Zobrist ushered the media group to take a couple steps back, not even missing a beat while talking more about Schwarber.

It was just a small showing of the way Zobrist impacts the Cubs clubhouse, though he feels he doesn't have to do much.

"All these guys, I mean, I look at Willy [Contreras] over there - his first pitch he ever saw in the Major Leagues, he hit a home run," Zobrist said. "It's like, what am I gonna tell him about handling his nerves?

"He did something I haven't ever seen anybody do. And what Schwarbs is doing. And Javy and Addy. How young these guys, it's in their makeup. It really is. 

"The Cubs did their homework getting these guys that have this kind of makeup to be able to perform in this moment and they're doing it."

Cubs Talk Podcast: Sitting down with new Cubs coaches Chili Davis and Jim Hickey

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USA TODAY

Cubs Talk Podcast: Sitting down with new Cubs coaches Chili Davis and Jim Hickey

Spring training baseball games are up around the bend, but before the boys of summer get into organized action, two of the team’s new coaches Chili Davis and Jim Hickey sit down with Kelly Crull.

Plus, Vinnie Duber joins Kelly to discuss these baseball conversations including the memorable first words of Kyle Schwarber to Chili Davis, “I don’t suck!"

Listen to the full episode at this link (iOS users can go here) or in the embedded player below. Subscribe to the podcast on Apple Podcasts.

Changes aren't exactly popular, but Cubs and Sox — except maybe Willson Contreras — will adapt to baseball's new pace-of-play rules

Changes aren't exactly popular, but Cubs and Sox — except maybe Willson Contreras — will adapt to baseball's new pace-of-play rules

MESA, Ariz. — We know Willson Contreras doesn’t like baseball’s new pace-of-play rules.

He isn’t the only one.

“I think it’s a terrible idea. I think it’s all terrible,” Jon Lester said last week at spring training, before the specifics of the new rules were even announced. “The beautiful thing about our sport is there’s no time.”

Big surprise coming from the Cubs’ resident old-schooler.

The new rules limit teams to six mound visits per every nine-inning game, with exceptions for pitching changes, between batters, injuries and after the announcement of a pinch hitter. Teams get an extra mound visit for every extra inning in extra-inning games. Also, commercial breaks between innings have been cut by 20 seconds.

That’s it. But it’s caused a bit of an uproar.

Contreras made headlines Tuesday when he told reporters that he’ll willingly break those rules if he needs to in order to put his team in a better position to win.

“I’ve been reading a lot about this rule, and I don’t really care. If I have to pay the price for my team, I will,” Contreras said. “There’s six mound visits, but what if you have a tight game? … You have to go out there. They cannot say anything about that. It’s my team, and we just care about winning. And if they’re going to fine me about the No. 7 mound visit, I’ll pay the price.”

Talking about pace-of-play rule changes last week, Cubs manager Joe Maddon said his team would adapt to any new rules. In Chicago baseball’s other Arizona camp, a similar tune of adaptation was being sung.

“Obviously as players we’ve got to make adjustments to whatever rules they want to implement,” White Sox pitcher James Shields said. “This is a game of adjustments, we’re going to have to make adjustments as we go. We’re going to have to figure out logistics of the thing, and I would imagine in spring training we’re going to be talking about it more and more as we go so we don’t mess it up.”

There was general consensus that mound visits are a valuable thing. So what happens if a pitcher and catcher need to communicate but are forced to do it from 60 feet, six inches away?

“Sign language,” White Sox catching prospect Zack Collins joked. “I guess you have to just get on the same page in the dugout and hope that nothing goes wrong if you’re out of visits.”

In the end, here’s the question that needs answering: Are baseball games really too long?

On one hand, as Lester argued, you know what you’re signing up for when you watch a baseball game, be it in the stands at a ballpark or on TV. No one should be shocked when a game rolls on for more than three hours.

But shock and fans' levels of commitment or just pure apathy are two different things. And sometimes it’s a tough ask for fans to dedicate four hours of their day 162 times a year. So there’s a very good reason baseball is trying to make the game go faster, to keep people from leaving the stands or flipping the TV to another channel.

Unsurprisingly, Lester would rather keep things the way they are.

“To be honest with you, the fans know what they’re getting themselves into when they go to a game,” Lester said. “It’s going to be a three-hour game. You may have a game that’s two hours, two hours and 15 minutes. Great, awesome. You may have a game that’s four hours. That’s the beautiful part of it.

“I get the mound visit thing. But what people that aren’t in the game don’t understand is that there’s so much technology in the game, there’s so many cameras on the field, that every stadium now has a camera on the catcher’s crotch. So they know signs before you even get there. Now we’ve got Apple Watches, now we’ve got people being accused of sitting in a tunnel (stealing signs). So there’s reasons behind the mound visit. He’s not just coming out there asking what time I’m going to dinner or, ‘Hey, how you feeling?’ There’s reasons behind everything, and I think if you take those away, it takes away the beauty of the baseball game.

“Every game has a flow, and I feel like that’s what makes it special. If you want to go to a timed event, go to a timed event. I’m sorry I’m old-school about it, but baseball’s been played the same way for a long time. And now we’re trying to add time to it. We’re missing something somewhere.”

Whether limiting the number of mound visits creates a significant dent in this problem remains to be seen. But excuse the players if they’re skeptical.

“We’ve got instant replay, we’ve got all kinds of different stuff going on. I don’t think (limiting) the mound visits are going to be the key factor to speeding this game up,” Shields said. “Some pitchers take too long, and some hitters take too long. It’s combination of a bunch of stuff.

“I know they’re trying to speed the game up a little bit. I think overall, the game’s going as fast as it possibly could. You’ve got commercials and things like that. TV has a lot to do with it. There’s a bunch of different combinations of things. But as a player, we’ve got to make an adjustment.”