Zobrist: 'The hunger is back' in Cubs' WS chase

Veteran opts not to offer advice to Astros on avoiding championship hangover

February 18th, 2018

MESA, Ariz. -- played on back-to-back championship teams with the Royals in 2015 and the Cubs in '16. Any advice for the Astros on how to deal with a World Series hangover this season?

"No," Zobrist said laughing, "and if they did [ask], I would tell them all the wrong things because we need to beat them this year."

Zobrist, 36, called last season one of the toughest in his career.

"It's hard to put into words the impact that the kind of championship that 2016 has on a team," Zobrist said Sunday, "because I don't think anybody has had to deal with that in baseball when you're talking about how much pressure was on our team and getting to that Game 7 and win that championship that hasn't been done in 108 years.

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"I think everybody was pretty satisfied as far as Cubs Nation goes -- at least for a little bit. As players, you have to find a way to turn it back on. It's not easy to do. From the top to the bottom, it was a difficult road to get everybody back to the same frame of mind, the same hunger that we had in '16. We just weren't ourselves the whole first half of last year."

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The Cubs did scuffle at the start of last season, coming in 5 1/2 games behind the Brewers at the All-Star break. They rallied to win the National League Central and reach the NL Championship Series, but lost in five games to the Dodgers.

"We were trying," Zobrist said of last season. "There was a lot of effort going into it. I think we just struggled to figure it out and try to get back to the same place of mind, and I think there was a lot of fatigue -- mental and emotional fatigue more than physical -- for a lot of guys at the early part of last season."

This year is different, Zobrist said.

"I can tell you this, the hunger is back for this team and we're excited to get back at it and prove that we're the best team again," he said.

Worth noting

• First baseman was expected in camp on Monday for the first full-squad workout. Rizzo had returned to his hometown of Parkland, Fla., to be with family and friends after a shooting at his former high school in which 17 people were killed.

"He's a special guy, and some of the things he's gone through and their community has gone through the last couple days, I'm looking forward to giving him a big hug and welcoming him back," Zobrist said of Rizzo.

"He needs hugs. We give a lot of hugs around here. We're a tight-knit group. He'll be excited to get back into the game. That's one of the best things about baseball is that it helps everybody move on from difficult things that happen."

Cubs chairman Tom Ricketts, president of baseball operations Theo Epstein and general manager Jed Hoyer were expected to address the players.

• The Cubs used 11 different leadoff men last season. Zobrist is one of the candidates to do so this year, but the Cubs also could continue to rotate players.

"I'm very comfortable with moving that around based on guys who get on base often," manager Joe Maddon said Sunday. "That's the whole point. When you can combine that with a guy who has high on-base and can hit homers, too, that's even more attractive. We have a lot of guys who are capable."

• Maddon is well aware of the potential for criticism on social media when he expresses his opinion on topics such as gun control.

"It's going to happen," he said. "Everybody has a voice these days. Whenever you sit in this seat and talk into the camera every day, and if you ask me my opinion, of course people are going to disagree with it. I expect that. I kind of enjoy it. I don't mind any of that. If I say something, I want to be committed and believe what I say to you guys first. If I'm uncertain, I'll tell you I'm uncertain. But to be disagreed with by people anonymously typing messages in the basement or off their phone in the bathroom, I don't worry about stuff like that. It's part of our culture right now."

One thing Maddon will emphasize in camp is using the phone to actually talk to people. He wants to hear the nuance in their voice.

• The Cubs made two roster moves on Sunday. Outfielder Charcer Burks was added to big league camp as a non-roster invitee. Burks, 22, batted .270 last season at Double-A Tennessee and also played in the Arizona Fall League.

The Cubs released right-handed pitcher , a non-roster invitee. Perez, 26, had pitched for the Braves in 2015 and '16. Last season, he was 7-10 with a 5.01 ERA in 23 starts with Triple-A Iowa.