Ben Zobrist had a bad 2017, mainly due to a wrist injury suffered in May. He also missed part of spring training this year with a back problem, and he’ll turn 37 next month.
All of these factors seemed to indicate that Zobrist would likely have a reduced role for the Cubs in 2018. And that’s okay, because his leadership and key hit in the 10th inning of Game 7 in 2016 were major factors in the Cubs winning the World Series. Much can be forgiven for that, and Zobrist will, for those things, be forever beloved by Cubs fans.
Having said all that, Zobrist seems to have set out to prove to everyone that he’s not quite done baseballing yet. Zo went 2-for-4 and homered Sunday afternoon, helping lead the Cubs to a 3-0 win over the Brewers and a series win over their divisional rivals.
Here’s Zo’s homer, which gave the Cubs a 1-0 lead in the fourth inning:
The ball looked like it doinked off the foul pole, but we, and he, will take it. It’s his first homer of the season, and he’s now hitting .360/.448/.520, granted in a very small sample size of 29 plate appearances. Nevertheless, if Zobrist can even hit at his 2016 level he’s a valuable player, and gives Joe Maddon many more options both for starting positions in right field, left field and second base, as well as off the bench.
Meanwhile, Jose Quintana was mowing down Brewers. He wound up with six shutout innings, with just three hits and two walks allowed, and six strikeouts. The six K’s leave him four short of 1,000 for his career, a milestone he’ll almost certainly reach in his next start, which should come up next weekend against the Braves.
The Cubs added a run in the fifth. Jason Heyward walked with one out, was sacrificed to second, and scored on a double by Albert Almora Jr.
In the seventh, after one-out singles by Victor Caratini and Heyward, Quintana’s batting-order spot came up. He’d thrown only 87 pitches and could almost certainly have gone another inning, but Joe wanted more offense, thus Tommy La Stella was sent up to pinch hit. If the Cubs had been leading, say, 5-0 or 7-0, Quintana would likely have taken the at-bat and perhaps had a chance to complete a shutout.
Instead, TLS ripped a sharp ground ball down the first-base line that Jesus Aguilar couldn’t handle. La Stella wound up on second, with Caratini scoring. It was charged as an error to Aguilar, which seems like a hometown scoring call to help the Brewers ERA — that ball was sharply struck and could have been ruled a hit. Instead, the Brewers were charged with the seventh error in this series and 14th overall, which is by far the most by any team (the Yankees and Phillies are next with 10 each).
Justin Wilson threw a scoreless seventh, striking out two. Carl Edwards Jr. worked a 1-2-3 eighth. And Brandon Morrow had an easy 1-2-3 ninth for his second save in as many days, finishing up a nicely-played win all around, offensively and pitching-wise.
Heyward had some trouble with fly balls both Saturday and Sunday, which is really unusual for him. I’m going to attribute that to the windows at Miller Park. You saw the weird shadows cast onto the field by the windows on the right-field side Saturday. There are similar windows on the left-field side, and even on a day when it’s not sunny, like Sunday, that’s going to create some glare for a right fielder. This will be less of a problem later in the season when the roof is open at Miller Park and the entire ballpark is brighter for day games, of which the Cubs have two more this year: Wednesday, June 13 and Monday, September 3 (Labor Day).
WGN-TV did make a couple of minor changes to their scorebox for this game. Here’s the WGN box as it looked on Opening Weekend in Miami, with blue dots at the right indicating outs:
For Sunday’s game, the outs were white dots:
That’s... a marginal improvement. The white dots are more readable than the blue ones, as is the white lettering for “PITCHES” instead of blue. There’s also a black background behind the “on-base” indicators, making those easier to read as well.
But I’d still rather see outs denoted by numbers, not dots.
Something notable about the nine games on this trip:
Cubs wearing road gray jerseys: 5-0
Cubs wearing blue alt jerseys: 0-4
I’m thinking they should stick with the grays on the road, for now at least.
So the Cubs come home with that 5-4 road trip, which, really, is pretty good no matter who you’re playing. Plus, they made a statement in Milwaukee by taking three of four from a team that was expected to possibly contend for the division title. The Cubs currently trail the Pirates by two games in the N.L. Central, and they’ll have a chance to do something about that beginning Monday afternoon when they return home at last — the final team to have a home opener in 2018. They’ll face the Pirates at 1:20 p.m. CT, with Tyler Chatwood on the mound for the Cubs and Ivan Nova for the Bucs.