Cubs' roller coaster season continues

Cubs' roller coaster season continues

For all the distractions and potential turning points in their season as defending champions, the Cubs will wake up Saturday morning with a .500 record.

The roller coaster season continues as the Cubs went 7-2 on their last homestand before an 0-6 trip out west and then a 5-0 start to this current homestand.

But with Friday's 5-3 loss to the red-hot Colorado Rockies in front of 41,229 fans at Wrigley Field, the Cubs have now lost three straight and sit at 30-30 overall on the season.

Mike Montgomery finally got his opportunity in the rotation, filling in for the injured Kyle Hendricks and giving up only two runs over four innings, both of which came on a two-run homer by Colorado catcher Ryan Hanigan in the second inning.

Seth Frankoff — the 28-year-old right-hander who was recalled from Triple-A Iowa this week when Hendricks hit the disabled list — made his MLB debut and gave up a two-run shot to Charlie Blackmon in the fifth inning and the Rockies never looked back from there. They added an insurance run in the seventh on Nolan Arenado's two-out RBI hit off Carl Edwards Jr.

Meanwhile, the Cubs offense struggled again, picking up only three hits on the afternoon. 

They scored two runs with two outs in the first inning when Jason Heyward's single was bobbled by Blackmon in center, allowing Ben Zobrist to score from first-base.

But a Heyward RBI ground-out was the only other offense the Cubs could muster up despite nine walks and two hit-by-pitches and the Rockies' starting pitcher (German Marquez) lasting only three innings.

The Cubs threatened in the ninth against Rockies closer Greg Holland for the second straight day, this time by working three walks in a row with one out. But Zobrist popped out to shallow left and Jason Heyward struck out and chucked his bat toward the Cubs dugout in frustration.

"I wish I would've come through in that at-bat right there," Heyward said. "We did a good job against the closer getting the bases loaded. We had a couple shots to get guys in. Wish it would've ended differently.

"You want to have opportunites — we had 'em."

The only three Cubs runs came home on Heyward's at-bats (two RBI plus Blackmon's error fielding Heyward's first-inning hit). Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo combined to reach base seven times, but scored just twice on the afternoon.

The Cubs forced the Rockies to throw 182 pitches, but weren't able to break through with that big hit. 

"We saw 180-something pitches today and scored three runs," Joe Maddon said. "That's nearly impossible with the number of walks, hit batters, etc. That just speaks to we do have to do a better job with hitting with runners on base, runners in scoring position. Make adjustments to move the baseball to the middle and opposite field — been talking about that pretty much for the entire season.

"We made our noise by walking and getting hit by a pitch. At the end of the day, when you see that many pitches — 182 — you should be able to score more than three runs."

Maddon compared this recent three-game losing streak to the Cubs' 0-6 West Coast trip in terms of a punchless offense.

"I can't overemphasize enough — we've seen this happen too often where we've seen a lot of pitches and not made the adjustment with runners in scoring position," Maddon said. "That's the next challenge for us."

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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