As the Cubbies prepare to defend last year’s World Series Championship, (Can we all just take a second and say that out loud to ourselves, IT’S GLOURIOUS) many are wondering how the mad scientist that is Joe Maddon is going to use his lineup game in and game out throughout the playoffs. As much as people like to criticize and preach the “over manage” mantra of Maddon, he has been given what is probably the most flexible and versatile lineup in all of baseball. I have fallen into the trap of second guessing more than a few times with his logic given the amount of star power in the middle of the Cubs lineup, but the fact is the different type of lineups Crazy Joe can throw out there at any given time can be frustrating for opposing managers, ask Mike Matheny he has plenty of time to field questions sitting at home this October, (I’m soooooooo sorry Cards fans). The bottom line is, having flexibility through your lineup is a huge advantage during a playoff series where every pitch can make a difference between a win and a loss. This is why when I think of how the Northsiders can defend their title, Anthony Rizzo, KB, Lester, Jake and the Professor aren’t the immediate guys on my mind. For me it’s Ben Zobrist.
Before you kill me, believe me I know they can’t win a title without those guys performing at their best, but to me that’s a given. Your best players play their best games in the biggest moments. If Rizzo goes 1-14 in the DS we are most likely going home, I don’t expect that to happen. In my opinion, unlike last year the Cubs are not top to bottom the best team in the National League, I believe that title goes to the Dodgers with the Nationals in a close second. What the Cubs do have that these two clubs don’t is multiple guys who can play multiple positions and perform at the plate no matter the situation they are put in, the most certainly don’t have a guy that fits that description that is a multiple time All-Star like Ben Zobrist. As we all dig in and prepare for this playoff run, pay attention to how Joe uses Zobrist. Our best way to get through the buzz saw that is Strausburg, Scherzer, and Gio is to make each pitch and each at bat count. With Zobrist, we afford ourselves the opportunity to play defensive guys like Heyward and Almora early in games, or go with a bomber like Kyle ( who is about to make all of you haters pay in this month) when the matchup calls for it; because at any time you can move a guy like Zobrist anywhere on the field in order to get someone an AB in a clutch situation or play for defense with a lead late in the game. The Cubs are one of the only clubs in the big leagues who can do this and it all starts with Ben Zobrist. To have a chance to repeat this year Maddon is going to have to do what he does best and that’s to be willing to make changes pitch by pitch, at bat by at bat. Luckily there isn’t a better player in the league that gives him more flexibility than Ben and for the Cubs to repeat he will need to be a major piece.