Last night, the Chicago Cubs played game one of four against the second best team in baseball (Washington Nationals) and won on the strength of second baseman Ben Zobrist.
Of course, there were contributions from all over the field – like Kyle Hendricks with a scoreless six inning effort – but Zobrist knocked in four runs, and did so in rather dramatic fashion.
First, in the bottom of the fourth inning, Tommy La Stella singled, Kris Bryant moved him to third with a ground rule double and the Nationals intentionally walked Anthony Rizzo to get to Zobrist. So, Zobrist stepped up the plate with the bases loaded, no outs and the score tied 0-0, and promptly plated two runs with a single to right.
Check it out:
Anthony Rizzo was thrown out at third on the play (what heads-up-baseball play from Bryce Harper to avoid an even bigger inning), but Zobrist did his job and the damage had been done. Those two runs looked like they were all the Cubs would need, but the Nationals ended up scoring two more in the ninth inning. So, what Zobrist did in the bottom of the eighth inning looks even more important in retrospect.
In the bottom of the eighth inning, Tommy La Stella got on base again to start the inning. Unfortunately, this time Bryant (strikeout) and Rizzo (fly out) both failed to move La Stella over, but as it turns out, it didn’t matter. The next batter up was Ben Zobrist and he scorched a homer into the left field stands to lengthen and ultimately preserve the Cubs lead.
Here’s the blast:
That was Zobrist’s third home run of the season, and according to ESPN’s Home Run Tracker, the ball left his bat at 101.1 MPH and traveled 397 feet into left center field. With his big night last night, Zobrist’s slash line has improved to .261/.377/.413 with a walk rate (15.8%) bigger than his strikeout rate (11.4%). His wOBA is up to a very good .349, and he also has a 113 wRC+.
The more impressive thing, though, is how good he’s looked lately. If you recall, there was a stretch where he went 0-21 from April 11-17, but from April 18 on, Zobrist has been crushing it (.300/.413/.540) with that same stellar walk rate (15.9%) that’s larger than his strikeout rate (9.5%). And he’s been doing that with a .279 BABIP!
Zobrist is absolutely locked in at the plate right now, but should we really be surprised? I think a lot of Cubs fans viewed the Zobrist signing as a “Well, he’ll be nice to have, to move around and to be a veteran around the younger Cubs.” When in reality, Zobrist has mostly been a top or middle-of-the-order hitter who has been helping to carry this Cubs offense with consistency and aplomb. And it’s not as though this level of offensive production is some sort of surprise. Zobrist has a career 118 wRC+, and it was as high as 123 wRC+ last season.
So, yes, Zobrist is nice to have, he’s good to move around, he’s been a veteran leader in the clubhouse, and he’s one of the Cubs’ key offensive contributors. He’s been that guy for a while now. It is very good to see him get started, and it’s been fun to watch the results.