Cubs believe they don't win World Series without Aroldis Chapman

Cubs believe they don't win World Series without Aroldis Chapman

Aroldis Chapman jogged out to “Wake Up” by Rage Against the Machine, posed with his World Series ring, hugged and high fived his former teammates and, briefly, wore a Cubs cap in his first trip back to Chicago since last November. 

Cubs catcher Miguel Montero laughed as he placed a blue Cubs hat on Chapman during a pregame ceremony honoring the flamethrowing closer who appeared in 13 postseason games last year. Chapman, wearing a New York Yankees hoodie, was all smiles as he quickly removed the cap and continued down the Cubs’ receiving line. 

“He laid it all on the line for us, he gave it everything he had from the second he got here until that last out of the World Series,” first baseman Anthony Rizzo said. “What a big part of our success and our run. Without him on our roster last year, we’re not winning the World Series.”

Chapman signed a five-year, $86 million contract last winter to return to the Yankees, and through an interpreter referenced the "rocky start" he had in Chicago, after the inevitable questions arose about his 30-game suspension under Major League Baseball's domestic violence policy to begin last season. But Chapman said overall he had a “beautiful experience” during his three months with the Cubs. 

“I wasn’t here for very long, but the time that I was here, it was a blast,” Chapman said. “I had a really great time here, I met some really great guys here and to win a championship, that means a lot.”

Chapman recorded the final five outs of Game 6 of the National League Championship Series, sending the Cubs to their first World Series in 71 years. A week and a half later, he gave up that dramatic home run to Rajai Davis that tied Game 7 of the World Series, a game that he now can look back on a little more whimsically than in the immediate aftermath of it. 

“It was one of the better games I’ve ever been a part of,” Chapman said. 

Chapman reminded Friday's crowd 40.395 of why the Cubs paid such a high price to acquire him before last year's trade deadline, with the 29-year-old recording the save after Brett Gardner's dramatic go-ahead home run in the top of the ninth. Chapman pitched over Chase Headley's error, which allowed Addison Russell to reach second to begin the ninth, by sandwiching strikeouts of Jason Heyward and Javier Baez around a Willson Contreras groundout. 

The Cubs didn't consider having Heyward bunt -- "I challenge anybody in this room to go up there and attempt, especially if you’re left on left, to bunt a baseball against him," Maddon said to the assembled media after the game -- and Baez was victimized by a perfectly-timed pitch sequence: slider (strike looking), slider (strike looking), fastball (strike swinging). 

It was innings like the one Chapman had Friday that were why the Cubs feel he was such a necessary part of their success in 2016. 

“Not to denigrate anybody that was here, but he was one of the most important things we had last year,” manager Joe Maddon said. “Toward the last part of the season when we got him and what he did in the playoffs and the World Series is pretty much difficult to re-create. I said it before, we could not have done it without him.” 

As he decides what's next, it's clear Ben Zobrist has something left in the tank

As he decides what's next, it's clear Ben Zobrist has something left in the tank

When Ben Zobrist rejoined the Cubs active roster on Sept. 1, it was fair to wonder how much he could provide offensively. After all, he spent the previous four months on the restricted list while tending to a family matter, last playing a big-league game on May 6.

Zobrist did no baseball activities from May to mid-July, only working out to stay in shape. Although he eventually ramped things up, he played in just 12 minor league rehab games in August before returning to the Cubs, a small number compared to the length of his absence.

Even Zobrist admitted upon his big-league return that his timing at the plate wasn’t where he wanted it to be. And yet, what he did in September was nothing short of impressive. In 21 games, he posted a .284/.377/.388 slash line, performing at a level many couldn’t have expected, considering the circumstances.

Zobrist's impact on the Cubs' lineup goes beyond what you see in the box score, however. Not only is he a switch hitter with some pop, but he has a keen eye for the strike zone and frequently puts together professional at-bats.

On a Cubs team that tends to expand the zone, Zobrist’s presence mattered. In his second game back, for example, he went 3-for-3 with two walks, helping the Cubs beat the Brewers 10-5. After the game, Brewers starter Chase Anderson pointed out how different the Cubs' lineup looks with Zobrist in it.

"They play the matchups really well and Zobrist makes that team so much better," Anderson said on Sept. 5. "Just bringing his presence to the top of the lineup, it changes their dynamic a little bit."

Where Zobrist stands entering 2020, though, is currently unclear.

Zobrist is set to hit free agency after the World Series and will turn 39 next May. Therefore, it’s possible that he’s played his last game in the big leagues, as he has little, if anything, left to prove at this stage in his career.

Ahead of the Cubs’ season finale on Sept. 29, Zobrist told reporters in St. Louis that he hasn’t thought about how much time he’ll take before deciding what’s next for him. His family situation will obviously play a big role in his decision, but if September showed anything, it's that he still has something left in the tank.

“I’m 38 but I got that feeling all over again,” Zobrist said following the Cubs’ season finale, a 9-0 loss to the Cardinals in which he pitched a scoreless inning. “Just really fun, you know? It’s a fun game. Sometimes you don’t come out on the winning end, but you still gotta have fun with it and enjoy it. I enjoyed it today."

The Cubs roster is expected to undergo changes this offseason, with center field, second base and the leadoff spot being just a few areas the team will look to address. The latter two spots became revolving doors during Zobrist’s absence, as the Cubs struggled to replace what he brought offensively.

Zobrist is past the point in his career of being an everyday player. However, he still could be a useful asset for the Cubs in a supporting role, bringing his veteran approach to the lineup when he plays while still offering an experienced voice in the clubhouse.

“I take a lot of joy in that role, just being a supporting guy and being a part of winning clubs and part of winning atmospheres and cultures,” Zobrist said on Sept. 29. “The Chicago Cubs have been that since I’ve been around. This year we didn’t make the playoffs — we still have a winning record — (but) the kind of relationships that are built here and the culture that’s been built here is definitely a winning one.”

After the Cubs announced that they wouldn’t retain Joe Maddon for 2020, Zobrist acknowledged that more changes were likely coming in the offseason. Only time will tell what that means for the veteran utilityman — should he continue playing.

Whether he retires or joins a different team for 2020, though, Zobrist will look back on his four seasons with the Cubs fondly.

“(They’re) just the most passionate fans I’ve ever met,” he said of Cubs fans. “They’re very loyal, very passionate and it’s been such a pleasure to be a part of that team that beat the curse back in ’16, so I feel that still, when I see Cubs fans, there’s a lot of them that hug me and thank me for being a part of that.

“I’ll always look back at [my] time here — I don’t know what’s going to happen in the offseason — but look back at these four years and [be] very grateful to be able to be part of a group like this and be able to do what we did while I was here.”

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Cubs Talk Podcast: An ode to Joe Maddon and looking to the next era

USA Today

Cubs Talk Podcast: An ode to Joe Maddon and looking to the next era

On the latest Cubs Talk Podcast, Tony Andracki, Kelly Crull, Scott Changnon and Jeff Nelson give us their memories of Joe Maddon's time with the Cubs and discuss David Ross and Joe Espada's candidacy to be the next manager.

01:30 Kelly's memories of Joe from the perspective of a reporter

06:00 Going back to Hazleton with Joe

07:45 Joe's legacy as manager of the Cubs

16:00 How Joe impacted Javy Baez' career

18:00 David Ross and Joe Espada may be the leaders to replace Joe Maddon.

Listen here or via the embedded player below:


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