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."

Yu Darvish and Cubs pull off dramatic comeback win over Dodgers


Yu Darvish and Cubs pull off dramatic comeback win over Dodgers

There were some added stakes to Saturday night’s Cubs-Dodgers matchup. Darvish made his first start at Dodger Stadium since his infamous Game 7 loss in the 2017 World Series, looking for a great effort in front of a fan base that had their up-and-downs in terms of their relationship with him. He (maybe) took a small jab at the Dodgers before the game had even started, telling the Los Angeles Times that he wasn't worried about being booed because “the Dodgers don't have many fans here in the first three innings, so maybe it will be on the quieter side.”

Well Dodgers faithful certainly got the message and made sure to let Darvish hear it.

However, Darvish got the last laugh on Saturday night. He pitched a stellar seven innings. Over those seven innings, Darvish gave up 1 ER on 2 hits and also notched 10 strikeouts.

Darvish has been hitting his stride as of late, maintaining a 2.96 ERA over his last four starts. 

All of that being said, it would be remiss of me not to mention the contributions of Darvish’s teammates. His great outing helped keep the Cubs in the game, but the gutsy performances of Anthony Rizzo and Pedro Strop are what won the contest.

Dodgers All-Star relief pitcher Kenley Jansen had a 10-game scoreless streak coming into Saturday night, but one swing of Rizzo’s bat was all that was needed to restore balance to the everlasting battle of pitcher versus hitter. After Jansen hit Kris Bryant with a pitch to put him on base, Rizzo activated “clutch mode”, mashing a 400-foot bomb out to right field.

Though small, Saturday night’s homer gives Rizzo a three-game hitting streak, perhaps forecasting that things are trending  upwards for the first baseman as the Cubs look to close out the series against the Dodgers with a win on Sunday night. And not to be left out of the fun, Pedro Strop came in to face the Justin Turner, MVP hopeful Cody Bellinger, Max Muncy and Matt Beaty to nail down the save.

Never afraid of high-pressure moments, Stop came through big time.

Strop got a ground out from Turner, struck out Bellinger and Beaty in his 15-pitch save effort. This was a much-needed win for the Cubs, who have well-documented struggles on the road. As they look to split the four-game set with the Dodgers on Sunday night, the Cubs can be pleased with their fight this week.

Saturday’s win over the Dodgers was the Cubs first win of the season after trailing through six innings, as they were 0-23 in such situations prior to the victory. Amid a season that has been fraught with injury and general roster construction concerns, it was wonderful to see the Cubs pull out a tough win lead by the much-maligned Darvish and the never-quit attitude of his teammates.

Cubs put Kyle Hendricks on 10-Day IL

Cubs put Kyle Hendricks on 10-Day IL

On Saturday, the Cubs announced that they are placing starting pitcher Kyle Hendricks on the 10-day I.L.with right shoulder inflammation. 

Following Hendricks' injury, the Cubs recalled right-handed pitcher Rowan Wick from Triple-A. Wick will be available on Saturday night and beyond, as the Cubs continue their four-game series against the Dodgers. 

This obviously a significant blow for the Cubs, as Hendricks is the team leader in innings pitched (88.1).

Prior to his loss on Friday night, Hendricks had won three straight outings, giving up less than 3 ER in each game. 

The Cubs have plenty of options to replace Hendricks for the time being. With an off day until Monday, they could keep their rotation intact. Tyler Chatwood and Mike Montgomery are options, and the Cubs could push Hendricks next start back to by going with a spot starter. 

Stellar pitching prospect Adbert Alzolay is another intriuging option, and he is coming off of a great outing with the Triple-A Iowa Cubs. On Fridaym he racked up 9 strikeouts, giving up 8 hits and 2 ER. 

The 24-year old Alzolay is ranked as the Cubs' fourth-overall prospect and the Hendricks injury could open the door for Alzolay to get called up.

The more likely scenario is that Cubs manager Joe Maddon chooses to use Chatwood. 

Chatwood is the only pitcher outside of the everyday rotation to have made a start this year and is the most obvious stopgap solution until we get further updates on Hendricks' status.