Ben Zobrist may very well win National League Comeback Player of the Year but before that's decided, he has another battle on hand: A batting title.
The 37-year-old veteran entered play Tuesday sitting third in the NL in batting average and he finished the night the same way...
...but he actually should've finished one spot higher.
Leading off the second inning Tuesday night, Zobrist hit a sharp grounder to the right of the second-base bag. Brewers second baseman Jonathan Schoop was playing in shallow right in a shift and had to charge the ball hard on the outfield grass, failing to come up with the play:
Because the ball went under Schoop's glove, it was ruled an error and Zobrist picked up an 0-for-1 instead of a 1-for-1.
Adding just that one hit in Zobrist's favor bumps his season average up from .312 to .314, leapfrogging Milwaukee's Christian Yelich (.313 AVG) in the process on a night where the Brewers star went 0-for-3. Both players still trail Reds second baseman Scooter Gennett (.321 AVG).
The crazy thing about the play was that even if Schoop fielded the ball cleanly, he still may not have gotten Zobrist at first base given he would've had to throw on the run with his momentum moving away from first base.
Zobrist said he thought that should've been ruled a hit all the way and pointed to how far Schoop was into the outfield as the highlight popped up on a TV in the Cubs clubhouse.
His manager agrees.
Unprompted, Joe Maddon brought the scoring decision up after Tuesday's 3-0 victory and lobbied for a change inside Major League Baseball.
"I'd like to rally for one change in scoring right now," Maddon said. "I think if a second baseman's playing on the outfield grass and a ball is hit to him and he's not able to complete the play, the left-handed hitter should get a hit on that play. If you want to create some kind of fairness or standard in the game, you've already put the guy at a disadvantage by putting the fielder at such a depth situation.
"And then when he has to run that far and attempt to make a play and then [the hitter doesn't] get rewarded and to penalize the defense, I don't think that's accurate. So I'd like to really just put that out there to be talked about. Our guys have been hurt a little bit [by the scoring].
"It's tough — they go out there and they're already set up defensively. I'm not complaining because I was involved in the [inception of the] shift thing several years ago. But if the guy can't make a play and he starts on the grass and ends on the grass, you gotta give that guy a hit, 'cause that is no longer a routine play.
"Last point — when you're fielding the ball off the grass, it's totally different than fielding it off the dirt. There's a differnt everything about it."
All's well that ends well in the team sense, as Zobrist scored the Cubs' first run later in that second inning and his team wound up with a 3-0 victory and another game of distance on the Brewers in the standings.
But for a guy who's never even hit over .300 in a season or sniffed a batting title, it's still a tough pill for Zobrist to swallow.
Even if Zobrist can maintain this pace, there's another factor that may be working against him down the stretch.
In order to qualify for a batting title, a player has to notch 3.1 plate appearances per team game, or 502 trips to the dish. Zobrist is just barely averaging that at the moment and still needs 52 plate appearances in the Cubs' final 18 games (2.8 per game) to finish among the qualifiers.
With Maddon resting the 37-year-old Zobrist a coulpe times a week all season and the veteran dealing with the usual aches and pains of a long year, it might be hard for him to notch those 52 plate appearances.