Cubs

Have the Cubs found their new leadoff hitter in Ben Zobrist?

Have the Cubs found their new leadoff hitter in Ben Zobrist?

Ben Zobrist doesn't yell and scream like John Lackey, but the veteran utility player still has a way of cutting right to the chase and not mincing words.

Zobrist — who's about to turn 36 — is refreshingly honest, even when admitting his new role as the Cubs' leadoff hitter comes with his challenges.

On the one hand, Zobrist seems like the perfect fit for the one-spot in the Cubs lineup: He's ultra patient, barely swings at pitches outside the strike zone and even has some pop to start a game off with a bang (as he did Sunday afternoon).

And while he acknowledged he needs to keep the same approach regardless of where he's hitting in the lineup, Zobrist still has a level of discomfort leading off.

"Leading off is not easy because of that first at-bat," he said. "You feel like, 'Well maybe I should be patient,' but then you don't want to let the ball right down the middle go by. There's just that question in your mind. You gotta weigh it based on the pitcher you're facing that day and really try to zone up on the first pitch.

"You don't get to see any of the previous pitches. Sometimes, it's harder to time the pitcher when you haven't seen anybody else batting in front of you in the lineup. That's the only difference. Besides that, I just consider it one of the other spots in the lineup."

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Monday marked Zobrist's 154th start in the leadoff spot in his career, which ranks fifth in frequency behind second (319 starts), third (267), fourth (229) and fifth (185).

Zobrist's numbers at leadoff are the lowest of any of those five lineup positions — .237 average, .328 on-base percentage and .708 OPS.

Hitting second through fifth in the order, Zobrist has career marks of .273 average, .368 on-base percentage and an .806 OPS.

Entering Monday night, Zobrist has made 24 starts at leadoff for the Cubs and carries a .220 average and .322 on-base percentage.

But he set the tone Sunday afternoon with a leadoff homer and came just a few feet shy of two more longballs later in the game.

Monday night, he put together a 12-pitch at-bat before striking out looking to lead off against Giants starter Ty Blach. In four plate appearances Monday, Zobrist saw 23 pitches, including a two-run homer in the eighth inning. His triple in the third inning marked 20 straight games that he's reached base safely.

Even though he admitted there are challenges in the leadoff spot, Zobrist isn't putting any added pressure on himself to set the table for the Cubs' big bats.

"It's just about being consistent," he said. "If I can be consistent and I can get on base, then I'll be doing my job in that spot. Although [Kyle] Schwarber hasn't hit as well as he wants to hit at the start of the year, he still got on base a lot in that spot. 

"We as an offense will continue to play better. It doesn't really matter who's [leading off] as long as we're getting on base."

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Maddon also liked the idea of Zobrist and his career .358 on-base percentage possibly forcing the opposition to shift less against Schwarber.

The thinking goes, if Zobrist reaches base ahead of Schwarber (hitting second), the defense will have to account for a baserunner and thus not be as able to load up the right side of the infield with defenders.

Zobrist is already a Swiss Army Knife for Maddon with his ability to play multiple positions. But the veteran has also been a key cog in the lineup, though mostly as protection to Anthony Rizzo the last two years, hitting cleanup. 

Maddon and the Cubs knew exactly what they were getting with Zobrist's versatility.

But now can he give the Cubs lineup a consistent presence atop the order in the vein of Dexter Fowler the last two years?

"Probably his best asset — two things — are that he knows the strike zone as well as he does and the fact that he's able to play a variety of different positions," Maddon said. "I say switch-hitting's also a part of that, but he's been this guy for a while. 

"He's got this recognition in the latter part of his career, but he's always been this type of player.

"All he wants to do is win. That's who he is."

Cubs chairman Tom Rickets gave David Ross the coolest decoration for his office

Cubs chairman Tom Rickets gave David Ross the coolest decoration for his office

There are cool office decorations, and their office decorations that blow casual ones out of the water.

A souvenir in Cubs manager David Ross' Wrigley Field falls into the latter category.

Ross posted photos on Instagram Saturday revealing he has the first W flag to hang over Wrigley after the Cubs won the 2016 World Series in his office. He says team chairman Tom Ricketts gave it to him for the office.

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Now, imagine what that flag would go for on eBay.

All jokes aside, you've got to think that flag will end up in some Cubs museum one day. For now, it's in safe hands.

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2020 MLB season: Tracking players who have opted out or declined to play

2020 MLB season: Tracking players who have opted out or declined to play

With Major League Baseball attempting to play the 2020 season with COVID-19 afflicting the nation, players have the option to not participate this year. 

Those considered “high-risk” for the coronavirus — per MLB’s agreement with the MLBPA — can opt out and receive salary and service time. Those who are not can decline to play but may not receive salary and service time. Teams may offer both to players who live with high-risk individuals, however.

Here is a running list of players who will sit out this season:

Mike Leake — Diamondbacks pitcher

On June 29, Leake became the first player to announce he will sit out. His agent said he and his family took “countless factors into consideration.” MLB insider Jon Heyman said the right-hander will not be paid this season, meaning he doesn’t fall under the high-risk designation.

Leake was positioned to compete for a spot in Arizona’s rotation and will become a free agent if they decline his $18 million 2021 option.


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Nationals first baseman Ryan Zimmerman and pitcher Joe Ross 

Zimmerman joined Leake in announcing his decision on June 29. The longtime National cited family circumstances — three kids, including a newborn, and his mother being high-risk. He made it clear he is not retiring, but he's set to become a free agent after this season.

On the same day Zimmerman announced his decision, the Nationals revealed Ross also decided not to play. The club’s statement cited “the personal health and safety of themselves and their loved ones” in both players’ decisions. Ross is arbitration eligible through 2021.


Rockies outfielder Ian Desmond

Desmond also revealed he won’t play this year on June 29. He posted a powerful Instagram message discussing racial inequality in baseball, from Little League to MLB. It’s heartfelt and worth a read:

View this post on Instagram

On my mind.

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Free agent pitcher Tyson Ross 

On July 2, Heyman reported Ross joined his brother Joe in deciding not to play. Tyson Ross was with the Giants and in contention for a swingman job before San Francisco released him in late June, shortly after MLB lifted its transaction freeze.


Nationals catcher Welington Castillo

Castillo became the third Nationals player to decide to sit out. Nationals manager Dave Martinez said on July 3 the former Cubs and White Sox catcher was hesitant to play because he has young children.


Dodgers pitcher David Price

Price announced on July 4 he will be sitting out this year, saying it’s in the “best interest of my health and my family’s health.” He joined Los Angeles over the offseason in a trade from the Red Sox with Mookie Betts.

Prior to his decision, Price donated $1,000 to every Dodgers minor leaguer in June.


Braves pitcher Félix Hernández

Hernández' agent announced on July 4 the former Cy Young Award winner will sit out this year. Hernández was vying for a spot in Atlanta’s rotation. 


Braves outfielder Nick Markakis

Markakis announced his decision to sit out on July 6. He said his family, as well as teammate Freddie Freeman contracting a rough case of COVID-19, influenced his thinking.

“Just to hear him, the way he sounded on the phone, it was tough, it was kind of eye-opening,” Markakis said of Freeman.


Pirates pitcher Héctor Noesí

The Pirates revealed on July 8 Noesí elected not to play for family reasons. He was on a minor league deal.


Giants catcher Buster Posey

Posey, the Giants longtime backstop and three-time champion, revealed Friday he won’t be playing this year. The 33-year-old and his wife recently adopted premature twin girls.

White Sox pitcher Michael Kopech

The White Sox announced Friday evening Kopech will not play this year. The 24-year-old hadn’t arrived at Summer Camp due to personal reasons prior to Friday’s news.

MORE: White Sox pitcher Michael Kopech decides not to participate in 2020 season

"Michael Kopech has informed us of his decision to not participate in the 2020 season," White Sox general manager Rick Hahn said in a statement. "We recognize that reaching this decision is incredibly difficult for any competitive athlete, and our organization is understanding and supportive.

"We will work with Michael to assure his development continues throughout 2020, and we look forward to welcoming him back into our clubhouse for the 2021 season."

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