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."

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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."

Albert Almora Jr. gave another example of his all-around game

Albert Almora Jr. gave another example of his all-around game

Albert Almora Jr. might be in the middle of a breakout season. The 24-year-old outfielder continues to show his impressive range in center field and is having his best year at the plate.

In Sunday's 8-3 win against the Giants, Almora had three hits and showed off his wheels in center to rob Evan Longoria of extra bases. The catch is visible in the video above.

"Defensively, right now he's playing as well as he possibly can," Maddon said.

On top of the defense he has become known for, he is hitting .326. That's good for fifth in the National League in batting.

"He's playing absolutely great," Cubs manager Joe Maddon said. "He's working good at-bats. His at-bats have gotten better vs. righties.

"The thing about it, is there's power there. The home runs are gonna start showing up, too."

There's also this stat, which implies Almora is having a growing significance on the Cubs as a whole:

There may be some correlation, but not causality in that. However, with Almora's center field play and growing accolades at the plate, the argument is becoming easier and easier that he is one of the most important players on the Cubs. That also goes for Almora's regular spot in the lineup, which has been up in the air with Maddon continuing to juggle the lineup.

Joe Maddon wants Cubs fans to cheer for Gleyber Torres and Eloy Jimenez

Joe Maddon wants Cubs fans to cheer for Gleyber Torres and Eloy Jimenez

Why can't a trade be looked at as a win-win? 

There doesn't always have to be a clear winner and loser.

Prior to Jose Quintana taking the ball for Saturday's game against the San Francisco Giants at Wrigley Field, Joe Maddon was asked about the players (Eloy Jimenez, Dylan Cease) the Cubs gave up to acquire Quintana as well as the deal with the Yankees for Aroldis Chapman in July 2016.

Gleyber Torres is absolutely killing it in New York, hitting .323 with a 1.014 OPS, 9 homers and 24 RBI in only 29 games. Six of those homers have come in the last week alone. 

With the White Sox, both Jimenez and Cease have found success in Double-A and Advanced Class-A, respectively.

Jimenez is hitting .331 with a .992 OPS, 9 homers and 35 RBI in 35 games. Cease is 6-2 with a 2.83 ERA, 1.22 WHIP and 57 strikeouts in 47.2 innings.

As the Cubs work to get their offense settled into a consistent groove, some Cubs fans have been looking at what might've been with guys like Torres and Jimenez.

"You can't have it both ways, man," Maddon said. "I'm happy for Gleyber. When he left, we talked about it. And we talked about the kids that went to the White Sox. It's good stuff. 

"I'm really disappointed if anybody's disappointed in the fact we won the World Series in 2016 and the fact that the guy we're talking about that we had to give up Gleyber for was so instrumental in that happening. That's bad process if you're gonna get stuck on something like that. Be happy for Gleyber. Be happy for him."

Maddon has been a fan of Torres' since he saw him in spring training in 2015, Maddon's first year in the Cubs organization.

"This kid's 21, with high, high baseball intellect," Maddon said. "He's very similar to Javy on the field. I've had some great conversations with him in the past. 

"The first time I saw him in spring training, I thought this guy's for real. It was like one at-bat, line drive to RF, I said who is this guy? And then you have a conversation with him. He's solid."

Maddon's point is a great one — would Cubs fans prefer to still have Torres and NOT have the 2016 World Series championship? Because that title doesn't happen without Chapman, regardless of how you feel about him as a person or what the Cubs had to give up to acquire him.

"Don't play that game," Maddon said. "Be happy for [Torres]. I'm gonna be happy when Eloy and Dylan make it up here. All these dudes, I want them to get here and be really good. And the guys that we get, I want them to be really good. 

"I don't understand why somebody's gotta lose all the time. This is an absolute classic example of what was good for both teams."