Bernstein: Cubs' Reinforcements Less Than A Rescue

The returns of Ben Zobrist and Willson Contreras shouldn't be viewed as a panacea.

Dan Bernstein
September 03, 2019 - 1:31 pm

(670 The Score) Ben Zobrist is back at the top of the Cubs' lineup for their game against the Mariners on Tuesday, and Willson Contreras will be behind the plate to catch Jon Lester.

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And I really do wish I thought it mattered more.

It feels like it should be one of those places to mark the calendar for a team's season, the day the former World Series MVP returned from his self-imposed personal absence to provide the deliberate plate appearances this desultory offense seems to need so urgently at the same time a top-10 MLB catcher sporting a 127 wRC+ was also reinjected into their bloodstream. That all sounds really important.

But the truth is that the Cubs have underperformed in too many places and at too many different times for this to be realistically viewed as a panacea in and of itself. Having two experienced and accomplished veteran hands here to help in a stretch run certainly isn't a bad development, it just smacks of desperation -- that kind of "They Didn't Score For Three Days And The Closer Got Clobbered ​And Then They Finally Scored And They Are Still Three Games Back" desperation -- to project more onto this than it deserves.

Zobrist also might not be any good. There's that too. He was slashing .241/.343/.253 in his 99 plate appearances in 2019, and his 45 plate appearances in his minor league prep stint that spanned all four levels of the system added up to just .189/.333/.405. The track record for 38-year-old players is already daunting, let alone that of guys that age burdened by emotional family issues that necessitate putting the job on pause and then trying to flip the switch back on.

Related: Cubs counting on revamped lineup for more consistency

What's more, while there's no doubting the offensive value of Contreras, backup catcher Victor Caratini has swung the bat just fine in his stead by slashing .278/.358/.472 since Aug. 3, good for a wRC+ of 116. Caratini also ranks 11th in baseball in framing, posting a 51.7 percent strike rate that is well ahead of Contreras' 48.3 percent, which ranks 27th. Contreras does more than make up for that deficiency on defense with his elite pop time and arm, however.

That the Cubs even can be perceived to require this boost in September is what's really telling. They're a .500 team over their last 90 games, beset by both inexplicable scoring outages and high-leverage bullpen failures that have conspired to keep them from sustaining a defining run.

If it hasn't come yet, it probably shouldn't be expected no matter how much hope can be symbolized by any familiar faces.

Dan Bernstein is a co-host of 670 The Score’s Bernstein & McKnight Show in midday. You can follow him on Twitter @Dan_Bernstein.