Ben Zobrist as the Cubs’ savior? Easy there, folks

All that talk is not just a heavy weight on one player. It’s a terrible reflection on those Cubs currently occupying the clubhouse. If they need a 38-year-old in the autumn of his career to show them how to play the game correctly, then there’s a massive leadership problem on the roster.

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“He’s here just observing, hanging out with the boys,” Cubs manager David Ross said of Ben Zobrist’s visit to camp.

The Cubs hope Ben Zobrist will return to the team in the second half of the season.

David Banks/Getty Images

I knew Ben Zobrist was religious. I did not know he was a miracle worker. I’m pretty sure he didn’t, either.

But if some of the chatter in Cubland is to be believed, he’ll heal a sick team if and when he returns in the second half of the season. I assume that means he’ll stop his teammates from making boneheaded base-running blunders; that he’ll improve the Cubs’ sloppy defense; and that he’ll remind everyone how to hit with runners in scoring position. I assume that means he’ll turn Gatorade into wine.

Zobrist likely has no idea how high expectations are for him. While he has been on a lengthy leave of absence to deal with his divorce, the Cubs haven’t looked at all like the winning organization we’ve known since 2015. With a 47-43 record, they are the most unremarkable and bewildering first-place team in baseball.

But a savior is out there, we’re told. Zobrist’s return would be like a midseason trade that energizes a clubhouse, the true believers say. As a veteran leader, he would wipe away the messiness of the first half like a new sheriff cleaning up a wide-open town, they insist.

No pressure, Ben!

But all that talk is not just a heavy weight on one player. It’s a terrible reflection on those Cubs currently occupying the clubhouse. If they need a 38-year-old in the autumn of his career to show them how to play the game correctly, then there’s a massive leadership problem on the roster.

All of this is assuming he’ll come back as the Ben Zobrist of 2018 (.305/.378/.440) and not the Ben Zobrist of early 2019 (.241/.343/.253), when his game might have been affected by his marital woes. No date has been set for his return, but with the All-Star Game over and the Cubs hoping for a do-over in the second half, sooner would be better than later. Or Friday, if possible.

“We have sort of a soft understanding of when that might be, but I don’t want to put a timetable on it or overly rely on it, either,’’ team president Theo Epstein said last week. “I think we’re all looking forward to having him back if that’s able to happen.”

If Zobrist is able to pick up where he left off, he should be able to help the Cubs at the top of the order, where they have struggled (a team .306 on-base percentage at that spot). He’ll give Joe Maddon more of the lineup flexibility the manager craves. Zobrist hit in every spot in the order last season but did some of his best work leading off.

He also hit .307 with runners in scoring position. Perhaps his teammates will notice that this is kind of important and will follow his example. The Cubs are hitting .249 with runners in scoring position, 24th out of 30 major-league teams.

I’m not sure what Zobrist can do to make pitcher Yu Darvish better. A laying on of hands?

If the Cubs are to cure themselves, it’s going to take more than Zobrist to do it. Epstein went out of his way to make that point last week. But it didn’t do anything to tamp down the hopes of that segment of the fan base that believes a man who might retire after this season will lift everyone around him. Those fans remember how good Zobrist was last season, and they have his 2016 World Series Most Valuable Player award etched in their hearts, if not tattooed on their biceps.

But there’s something missing from these Cubs, something more than whatever a super-utility player can offer. With the trade deadline approaching, it’s hard to see them being able to make a major move, given the absence of top prospects in their farm system. And, anyway, the signing of closer Craig Kimbrel last month might have been their major move. Firing Maddon during the season to put a jolt in an underperforming team would be silly, given all his success. And that’s coming from someone who has rolled his eyes over the Cubs manager’s methods as much as anyone.

The answers are with the players already in the clubhouse. And the final answer might be, “They’re not good enough.’’

Until there’s a verdict, though, Cubs fans can cling to the idea that Zobrist has the ability to repair a team that’s defective. Starting a prayer chain wouldn’t hurt, either.

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