ST. LOUIS — Maybe Ben Zobrist will help?
Sources say the 2016 World Series MVP is scheduled to arrive Friday in South Bend, Indiana, to start baseball work and a spring-like game schedule with the Cubs’ Class A affiliate in preparation for his long-anticipated return from a personal leave.
But as much as the Cubs have missed him and could desperately use him back in the lineup — assuming he’s at full strength and productive — they’ll still need to solve most of their problems without him for his return near the end of the month to be relevant.
Zobrist has been gone since the second week of May, when he left the team to take care of his family amid pending divorce proceedings.
A week later, the Cubs won a road series in Washington, but they haven’t won one since. They’ve struggled with men in scoring position, struggled to hit left-handers and struggled in almost every other facet when they leave Wrigley Field.
“I have no idea,” said ace Jon Lester, who couldn’t solve the issues in an 8-0 loss to the Cardinals on Thursday that knocked the Cubs out of first place and saddled them with their 10th consecutive series loss on the road. “If I knew, we’d fix it. I can’t answer it. Obviously, we like Wrigley, and we don’t like anywhere else.”
Lester trailed 3-0 when he was pulled in the sixth inning after allowing three consecutive hits. His replacement, Derek Holland, allowed a three-run homer to switch hitter Matt Wieters.
The Cubs have the worst road record in the National League, including 22 losses in their last 31 road games.
This one closed a 3-6 trip. The Cubs’ only hit came with two out in the sixth, when newly acquired Nick Castellanos singled off Cardinals starter Jack Flaherty.
It loss came the day after a flurry of acquisitions at the trade deadline, with two new hitters (including Tony Kemp) in the lineup and two new relievers (Holland, David Phelps) appearing.
“Anytime the ownership group and front office make moves, it’s always a positive for us,” Lester said. “We as a group in this clubhouse have to figure it out and play better regardless if they make moves or not. It’s on us. It’s not on them. It’s a nice boost, but we’ve got to go out there and play better.”
Hamels returns Saturday
The Cubs confirmed after the game that veteran left-hander Cole Hamels will return from an oblique injury to start Saturday against the Brewers.
Hamels, who was hurt June 28, made two minor-league rehab starts and threw a bullpen session Wednesday in St. Louis.
The Cubs and Castellanos -expect his already good offensive numbers over the last 3½ seasons (.823 OPS) to tick upward by getting him out of spacious Comerica Park in -Detroit and into the hitter-friendly outfield gaps at Wrigley Field.
“No doubt. It’s a good place to hit,” said Castellanos, who has played four career games at Wrigley, with three homers, two doubles and a 1.651 OPS. He called Comerica “a joke” for its dimensions after hitting a walk-off homer there July 21.
Castellanos, a fan of Hall of Famer Al Kaline, is able to wear Kaline’s No. 6 in Chicago, where it is not retired, unlike in Detroit.
“But the coolest reason is because it’s my kid’s sixth birthday today,” he said.