By Bruce Levine–
CHICAGO (CBS) — The NL Central champion Cubs have worked their way into an easy last two weeks of the 2016 season, as they’re now looking to sharpen their skills while getting proper rest at the same time.
For the Cubs to achieve their championship goal, two of the main components of the offense need to begin to fire again on all cylinders before the postseason begins. When the 2016 campaign began, the offense was carried by outfielder Dexter Fowler and second baseman Ben Zobrist. Both veteran players were having great at-bats as well as seeing many of pitches from the opposition, and the Cubs wouldn’t have gotten out to their lofty division lead without their strong play.
The second half of the season has been a different story for both Fowler and Zobrist. On June 20, Fowler went on the disabled list with a hamstring injury. The team immediately went into a tailspin, losing 15 of their next 21 games before the All -Star break. With Fowler back at the top of the lineup after the break, the Cubs started playing better baseball right away. Chicago is 46-12 when Fowler scores a run and are 12-1 when he scores two or more runs in a game.
In September, Fowler and Zobrist have each taken a few steps backward at the plate. Zobrist is hitting .136 in 14 games this month, while Fowler checks in at .222. More alarming than the batting average is the dearth of run scoring and production. Both players have scored six runs apiece in September, while Fowler has four RBIs and Zobrist has one.
“Sometimes you go up to the plate with confidence, sometimes not so much,” Zobrist said.
“Those moments when you are not feeling great, you have to try and trick yourself into knowing you can go up there and get a hit. That is not easy, especially if you have not been hitting the ball well for a while. Knowing where you are going to hit in the lineup helps take those extra negative thoughts out of your mind. You want to go up there with as few doubts as possible. With Joe’s way now, you can just concentrate on getting better in each at-bat and not let the bad thoughts enter into it.”
Manager Joe Maddon said regardless of information he receives from the metrics department, he will stick with his one-through-four lineup of Fowler, Kris Bryant, Anthony Rizzo and Zobrist moving forward.
“I like Zobrist behind Rizzo,” Maddon said. “I believe he is the one guy that can protect Rizzo on a daily basis. With him being a switch-hitter and his reputation to work really good at-bats is the key there. To answer your question more directly, the more non-regulars I play, the more I look at the (metric data).”
Bruce Levine covers the Cubs and White Sox for 670 The Score and CBSChicago.com. Follow him on Twitter @MLBBruceLevine.