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Ben Zobrist is a free agent after the season. Will he play in 2020 at age 39? 'I don't feel like I've lost much.'

Paul Sullivan, Chicago Tribune on

Published in Baseball

CHICAGO -- If you believe a team's chemistry is dictated by its core players, it's easy to connect the dots and point to the summer hiatus of Ben Zobrist as a leading factor to the Cubs' up-and-down season.

The Cubs no doubt missed Zobrist in the clubhouse, probably even more than in the lineup, but it's impossible to quantify a vibe, even for baseball's nerdiest nerds.

Did Zobrist's absence factor into the Cubs' constant pendulum swings in 2019?

"For sure, it could a little bit," starter Kyle Hendricks said. "He's a big part of this team, so any time you're missing that for a long period, there's something he definitely could've brought. ...

"How much that contributed to the overall (performance), what would've happened or what could've been different? It's hard to say. You can just see what he brings to this team, and the tone he sets in the at-bats. It would've been a different vibe for sure. If the results would've been different, who knows?"

The Cubs were 19-13 when Zobrist left the team on May 7 to spend time with his family during a divorce from his wife, Julianna. They went five games over .500 -- 54-49 -- in his absence before Zobrist returned Sept. 1 after a minor-league stint.

 

The Cubs used a cast of characters at second to make up for the loss of Zobrist, who also spent time as a corner outfielder. But of the other six second baseman -- Addison Russell, Daniel Descalso, David Bote, Robel Garcia, Tony Kemp and Ian Happ -- none stood out.

Zobrist started slowly himself, and when a player is 38 and off to a bad start, questions generally arise as to whether he's struggling or simply done. He hit .241 with one double and no home runs in 83 at-bats before leaving in May but managed to take his walks and had a .343 on-base percentage.

Since returning, Zobrist went into Saturday hitting .326 with three doubles and one home run in 46 at-bats with a .404 OBP. Is he finally back to the player he thought he would be?

"I feel OK right now," Zobrist said Friday at Wrigley Field. "It's hard to tell where I would be at his point of the season. I feel like I'm in it. I feel better but it's always a grind. Your swing is a constant grind, and when you're facing a guy like (Jack) Flaherty, who has been historically good the second half of the year, it's hard to put good swings on those pitches.

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