Cubs

Cubs battle, but Tuesday's brutal loss to Padres a missed opportunity to gain ground in postseason standings

Cubs battle, but Tuesday's brutal loss to Padres a missed opportunity to gain ground in postseason standings

As the clock ticks down on the 2019 regular season, the only way to view Tuesday is as a missed opportunity for the Cubs.

With the Cardinals losing to the Rockies and the Nationals falling to the Twins, the Cubs had a golden chance to gain ground in the National League postseason standings. A win would've put them three games behind St. Louis for first place in the NL Central and 1.5 behind Washington for the top NL Wild Card spot.

Instead, the Cubs suffered a brutal 9-8 walk-off loss, one that you can't help but feel slipped right through their fingers. To add insult to injury, the Padres scored the victory by recording three straight walks off Steve Cishek in the 10th inning, the final one coming on four pitches.

Woof.

The anticlimactic ending was disappointing in its own right, but especially when considering what the offense did on Tuesday. Despite going down 6-2 and 8-5 at various points in the game, the Cubs fought back, eventually tying the game at 8-apiece in the eighth inning. 

Seeing the Cubs claw their way back into the game should be viewed positively despite the loss. So should the individual performances of Kris Bryant and Jason Heyward, two players who have struggled over the last month or so.

Entering Tuesday, Bryant held a .241/.328/.414 slash line since Aug. 1, hitting just five home runs over that stretch (none since Aug. 21). Heyward's line over that same stretch is even more glaring: .170/.295/.330. The duo led the charge Tuesday, though, as both hit a pair of home runs while walking once and twice, respectively.

So, if you're looking for positives, Bryant and Heyward are a great place to start. The Cubs won't be able to start a full-strength lineup until October, at the earliest, as Javier Báez is out the rest of the regular season due to a hairline fracture in his left thumb.

Nevertheless, they still have a roster capable of being formidable offensively, as evidenced by Monday's 10-run outing and their most-recent showing. This is contingent on Bryant being healthy, of course, which he certainly looked Tuesday, his first game since receiving a cortisone shot in his balky right knee on Sunday.

Ultimately, however, the Cubs finished the night in the same position as they started in, if not a worse one. The Brewers took down the Marlins 4-3, which, combined with the Cubs' loss, puts Milwaukee a game behind the Cubs for the second Wild Card spot. For what it's worth, the Brewers have an uphill battle to climb, as they'll be without Christian Yelich (fractured right kneecap) for the rest of the season.

At this point in the season, though, moral victories are worth little to nothing. With 18 games left in the regular season, every game and win means more than prior to it, especially for teams in a heated postseason race.

The Cubs still have seven games against the Cardinals in their back pocket, meaning that if they can keep their divisional deficit in a similar position as it is currently, they'll have a chance to usurp St. Louis. This task only becomes more difficult by the day, though, when opportunities like Tuesday's aren't taken advantage of.

2019 has featured plenty of heartbreaking losses for the Cubs. Considering the chance they had Tuesday, the latest should be right up there amongst the rest.

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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

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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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