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As Zobrist fuels Cubs, Schwarber slam seals W

2B reaches 5 times; OF studies Rizzo before blowing game open
@MLBastian
September 6, 2019

MILWAUKEE -- As the Cubs went through their pregame routine on Thursday, one of the clubhouse televisions was tuned in to the Cardinals' game. By the time Chicago's players took the field at Miller Park, they did so knowing a win would simply avoid losing ground in the division race.

MILWAUKEE -- As the Cubs went through their pregame routine on Thursday, one of the clubhouse televisions was tuned in to the Cardinals' game. By the time Chicago's players took the field at Miller Park, they did so knowing a win would simply avoid losing ground in the division race.

The Cubs took care of that bit of business against the Brewers with a 10-5 victory, in which Ben Zobrist reached base five times, Kyle Schwarber launched a mammoth grand slam and Willson Contreras homered as part of a four-hit display. The win kept the North Siders 2 1/2 games back of the National League Central-leading Cardinals, who routed the Giants earlier in the day.

Box score

This is a different script from a year ago, when the Brewers chased down the Cubs in September.

"Maybe we need to be on this side to kind of have that urgency," Cubs third baseman Kris Bryant said. "And that sense of like, 'Hey, let's get going. Let's grind it out. Let's focus.' And I think having all those guys -- having Zo back, all these guys up, fresh faces -- is going to play into that."

Here is a closer look at how Zobrist and Schwarber keyed Thursday's win for the Cubs.

The Zobrist Effect

After nearly four months away from the team, eliminating a considerable chunk of production opportunity, the 38-year-old Zobrist is not worrying about his numbers. The veteran is staring down the end of his contract with the Cubs and embracing this shot at another World Series ring with an uncertain future off in the distance.

"That's the nice thing about this," Zobrist said. "I'm not playing for statistics. I'm just playing for W's. That's the important thing right now."

Since early May, when Zobrist left the team and was placed on the restricted list in order to focus on a family situation, the Cubs have been missing his presence in the clubhouse and especially atop the lineup. Zobrist might not be concentrating on statistics, but Chicago's numbers took a hit during his absence.

Not only did the Cubs drop to the bottom of the NL in contact rate and swinging-strike rate, but the team's leadoff situation crumbled. Between May 7-Sept. 2, when Zobrist was away from the team or out of the lineup, the Cubs turned in a .189/.270/.406 slash line out of the No. 1 spot in the order. The average, on-base percentage and wRC+ (72) ranked 30th in the Majors in that span.

"He's a great example setter," Cubs manager Joe Maddon said. "He's been doing it for years. He looks very frisky right now. There is every reason to believe he should be able to continue those kind of at-bats."

In Thursday's win, Zobrist reached base via walk twice, collected three singles and scored a trio of runs. Since rejoining the lineup on Tuesday, Zobrist has reached base seven times in nine trips to the plate.

"That's the kind of thing that you feel good about," Zobrist said, "just setting the table for those guys coming up behind me. They've been hitting the ball really well. ... It's just nice to know that the pressure's not on. I just focus on finding a way to get on base."

Schwarber's grand display

Schwarber was in the dugout, watching closely as Anthony Rizzo squared off against Brewers lefty Drew Pomeranz in the sixth inning.

Pomeranz started Rizzo off with a four-seamer at the top of the zone, and the Cubs first baseman fouled it off. Two pitches later, Pomeranz went even higher with a fastball in an 0-2 count and Rizzo -- choking up on the bat -- stayed on top of the ball and pulled it into right field for a go-ahead sacrifice fly.

"I saw Rizz. Rizz was very flat to the ball there," Schwarber said. "That just kind of hinted to me that that's what I needed to do."

With the Cubs holding a 5-4 lead, Contreras followed with an infield single that loaded the bases for Schwarber. Chicago's left fielder kept Rizzo's plate appearance in mind and was ready when Pomeranz sent a 94-mph four-seamer just above the strike zone.

Schwarber attacked the pitch with a similar swing, but sent the baseball rocketing to the top of the second deck in right field for a 442-foot grand slam that blew the game wide open. It was his second grand slam of the season at Miller Park.

The home run by Schwarber was his team-leading 34th shot of the season. The blast also marked the ninth grand slam of the year for the Cubs, tying the single-season club record that was set in 1929.

"If the back wall's not there," Maddon said, "that's somewhere over, shoot, I don't know, what's on the other side of the lake? ... I think Kyle getting to see exactly what Rizz did, that's how you hit a high ball. You don't launch-angle a high ball, man. You've got to get on top of that sucker. Both of them did."

Jordan Bastian covers the Cubs for MLB.com. He previously covered the Indians from 2011-18 and the Blue Jays from 2006-10. Read his blog, Major League Bastian and follow him on Twitter @MLBastian.