Update: Joe Maddon confirmed on 670 The Score that Zobrist will be leading off. The manager also touted the return of Willson Contreras, which means the Cubs are basically back at full strength for the final four weeks of the season.
Ben Zobrist hasn’t gotten into either of the games during which he’s been back on the active roster, but that will change Tuesday night against the Mariners. Joe Maddon indicated earlier that he wouldn’t hesitate to throw the 38-year-old back into the deep end as the Cubs seek a spark atop the order that Jason Heyward was not able to provide, so Zobrist expected to lead off against Félix Hernández.
“Physically, I feel really good,” Zobrist told members of the media prior to Monday’s win. “I just kind of assume [playing time] will be dependent upon what they see. If my timing looks good I’ll get to play more. If I’m struggling, then I might sit more.”
Sounds about right, though we’ve already seen more than one example of performance having little influence over playing time. But Zobrist is a special case in that he wasn’t playing well even before taking a three-month leave, then showed only brief flashes during his halting minor league rehab stint. As such, there’s a little less reason to give him the benefit of the doubt.
At the same time, part of the reason Heyward stayed in the leadoff role as long as he did in the face of diminishing results was the team’s overall success. The Cubs are 22-10 with Heyward batting atop the order, so there was sort of an “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” feel to the whole thing. It’s possible that could be true of Zobrist if he struggles while the team gets hot around him.
And isn’t that really the whole point of Zobrist being back? He’s not some kind of savior, not that anyone in their right mind has ever viewed him as such, but he sets an example with his professional plate appearances and positive attitude. That’s what the Cubs have gotten from Nicholas Castellanos, who, though he’s an entirely different player and personality, has had an impact that goes beyond just his bat.
It says quite a lot about the Cubs that they’re having to resort to such measures at this point in the season, but maybe Zobrist has a little something left to say as well.