Cubs

In new world for Cubs, Ben Zobrist explains why he wasn’t trolling Cardinals  

In new world for Cubs, Ben Zobrist explains why he wasn’t trolling Cardinals  

ST. LOUIS – Ben Zobrist is too diplomatic to completely troll the St. Louis Cardinals – and too honest to pretend that celebrating at Busch Stadium wouldn’t mean something for a Cubs organization that for so long had been Little Brother in this lopsided rivalry.

Zobrist gave the Cardinal clubhouse bulletin-board material – and moved the needle for the St. Louis media – heading into the last week of the regular season when he said: “We intend to clinch there. And I think for a lot of the guys that have been around here for a long time, it’s going to be very satisfying.”

First reaction: Wow. Second reaction: Obviously (when the Cubs are about to play a four-game series against their archrivals and the magic number to eliminate both the Cardinals and Milwaukee Brewers from the division race had dropped to two).

But Zobrist gets it as someone who grew up in downstate Illinois. This is a self-made, super-utility player with a World Series ring from the 2015 Kansas City Royals and a 50th anniversary edition convertible Camaro for last year’s World Series MVP performance. Between his age (36) and his natural personality, Zobrist doesn’t treat each interview like a chore and suspiciously view every question as a trap.

“It’s really nothing personal,” Zobrist said Wednesday night amid the champagne-and-beer celebration, just before Jon Lester toasted John Lackey and broke the retirement story. “I would have said that no matter where we were going.

“But I do think it’s extra special to be able to do it here – for a lot of Cubs fans (who) for a long, long time haven’t experienced a lot of winning in this particular city. For those guys that have been in the organization for a long time, too, I know it means a little bit more.

“I’ve only been here for two years, so I can’t quite understand that the way those guys can. But they’ve expressed that to us. And this means something extra special for those people.”

Zobrist is also the type of guy who shook hands, signed autographs and took pictures with the fans who swarmed his North Center home and lined up around the block – hours after the Cubs flew back from Cleveland after beating the Indians in last year’s epic World Series Game 7.

“We know that the fans are even more pumped, I’m sure, about (clinching in St. Louis) than those of us in this room,” Zobrist said. “We appreciate our fans. We know that they’re very loyal and very passionate about this ballclub. Definitely we know that some of them are celebrating just as much as we are today.”     

Going for a personal three-peat, Zobrist’s regular season reflected the 2017 Cubs as a whole, from the slow start to the nagging injuries to the strong finish to the enormous sense of confidence heading into October.   

“We feel excited for another opportunity to make a push in the postseason and to defend our title,” Zobrist said. “But we’re going to celebrate this. This is a huge accomplishment, a big step. It’s a very, very long season, and we’re going to celebrate this tonight because it needs to be.

“It’s a lot of work just to get to this point. And a lot of teams haven’t been able to do that after winning the previous year. But now it’s just adrenaline, baby. Let’s get it going.”

Is Joe Maddon covering for Wade Davis? Where do Cubs go from here?

10-17_wade_davis_usat.jpg
USA TODAY

Is Joe Maddon covering for Wade Davis? Where do Cubs go from here?

Is Cubs manager Joe Maddon taking the heat and covering for Wade Davis while the All-Star closer deals with atypical soreness in his right arm?

“No, no,” Maddon said Tuesday when asked if Davis felt anything unusual that lingered into the National League Championship Series after last week’s all-out effort eliminated the Washington Nationals from the divisional round.

The Los Angeles Dodgers took a 2-0 lead in this best-of-seven bullpen battle without Davis throwing a single pitch, the backlash from Cubs fans, Twitter and the national media again putting Maddon on the defensive, the year after he got second-guessed for pushing Aroldis Chapman so hard during the World Series.

This NLCS truly is a bizarro world, with Maddon comparing the Buster Posey Rule to the Chicago soda tax, getting so little benefit of the doubt – the Cubs really did beat the Cleveland Indians in Game 7 – and working the baseball term “dry-hump” into one answer during Monday’s Wrigley Field press conference.

Maddon said he would have to check first with Davis – who would have almost five full days in between relief appearances – if the Cubs need a four- or five-out save in Game 3.

“Nevertheless, I always check,” Maddon said. “I can’t just assume that.”

Maddon’s Game 2 calculus on Sunday night at Dodger Stadium – sticking with lefty reliever Brian Duensing in a 1-1 game to start the ninth inning and then bringing in John Lackey to serve up the walk-off, three-run homer to Justin Turner – made you wonder if Davis was still dragging after ending Washington’s season and traveling on the overnight cross-country flight that got diverted to New Mexico for about five hours when Jose Quintana’s wife experienced a panic attack.

“I think he just got mentally exhausted,” Maddon said. “Physically, 44 pitches, he hasn’t done that in a while. But also the seven outs and what it meant and the plane ride itself, sitting on the tarmac, there was a lot of non-rest going on right there, so it was harder to recover.

“So, no, he was fine for the last game, but we set up the parameters before the game.”

Maddon is sticking with his story, that he would only deploy Davis in a save situation and not use him for one out against Turner (1.115 career postseason OPS) or have him totally warm up without the guarantee of getting him into the game.

“To put Wade in that position would be wrong on my part,” Maddon said. “We had already talked about the circumstances, so my loyalty there lies with Wade, or my decision-making lies with Wade, nobody else.

“That was a heavy day for him (in Washington). Going into the last game in L.A., like I talked about, we talked about one inning only, and not to get up and not put him in the game.

“If you get him up and sit him down, then you have no idea what it’s going to look like. My responsibility is to him, also, and to the players, so I told him that before the game, so I had to stick with our decision.”

Before finalizing the Jorge Soler trade at the winter meetings, the Kansas City Royals took the unusual step of allowing the Cubs to meet with Davis at his home in New York’s Hudson Valley and go through a physical exam. The Cubs wanted reassurances after Davis spent parts of last season on the disabled list with a forearm strain and a flexor strain.

The Cubs wondered if “dry-humping” had contributed to those injuries, and tried to stay conservative with Davis during his free-agent year, watching him convert his first 32 save chances and using him for three-plus outs only three times during the regular season, all in mid-to-late September.

“If you look at the numbers this year, I thought going into the playoffs his usage has been really good,” Maddon said. “Minimal, in a sense. We didn’t get him up hardly at all where we didn’t utilize him.

“He just wasn’t set up for it the other day. So honestly, I think he’s in really good shape right now, actually. I don’t think he could have gone those seven outs the other day if he had been overly dried up during the course of the season. He felt good. But that was above and beyond, and that wasn’t part of the game plan the other night.”

SportsTalk Live Podcast: Ben Zobrist shares his leadoff approach

zobrist.jpg

SportsTalk Live Podcast: Ben Zobrist shares his leadoff approach

Sports Talk Live is on location at the Brickhouse Tavern at Wrigley Field to get you set for Game 3 of the NLCS. David Haugh (Chicago Tribune), Jesse Rogers (ESPNChicago.com) and Bob Nightengale (USA Today) join Kap on the panel. 

Plus, Ben Zobrist and Curtis Granderson drop by to talk about the big matchup.

Listen to the full SportsTalk Live Podcast right here: