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Cubs’ Ben Zobrist: Pressure’s on Nationals to get out of first round

Zobrist with the World Series MVP trophy after Game 7 last fall.

Of all the playoff runs the Cubs have begun in the last three or four generations, could this be the one with little or no pressure attached? The Cub with perhaps the most authoritative voice on the subject seems to think so.

“I definitely think there’s probably a little bit more pressure on them,” Ben Zobrist said of manager Dusty Baker’s Nationals. “They haven’t been out of this first series yet. Obviously, they’re very motivated to try to do that. But they know it’s a very, very big moment for them and their organization.”

Zobrist, the only player in baseball with World Series rings from each of the last two years, joined teammates in a simulated game Tuesday at Wrigley Field ahead of their playoff opener Friday in Washington.

“For us, it’s still a big moment,” said Zobrist, who added he feels better physically now than he has at any time during a season in which he dealt with nagging back, wrist, neck and leg issues from the start.

“We plan on doing this for a long time to come. I think you basically have a team that’s up and coming that’s really trying to make their mark for the first time in the postseason, and you’ve got a team that’s proven that they’re exciting to watch and knows how to win like we did last year.”

If anything, the Nationals know the expiration date on their window of opportunity for winning a championship could be limited. Baker is in the final year of his contract. Bryce Harper is expected to depart as a $400 million free agent after next year. Fifteen-game winner Gio Gonzalez and All-Star second baseman Daniel Murphy also have one year left on their contracts.

The Cubs? After their curse-busting comeback in the World Series last year, what’s playoff pressure?

“The thing that feels different is we know how to do this,” manager Joe Maddon said.

Dueling hamstrings

Neither the Nationals nor the Cubs announced the order of their starting rotations for the series, in part because each team is monitoring its former Cy Young winner’s right hamstring injury.

Nationals ace Max Scherzer — who left his last start of the season Saturday with a “tweaked” hamstring — told media in Washington he plans to pitch in the series and will know more after a bullpen session Wednesday.

Maddon said Jake Arrieta — who likely won’t pitch until Game 3 or 4 — will throw only a bullpen session before his playoff start and skip the anticipated simulated game.

Viewing party at the Park

The Park at Wrigley will open for viewing parties of the Cubs’ NLDS road games Friday, Saturday and, if necessary, Oct. 12. Tickets are $10 (maximum four), with net proceeds benefitting Cubs Charities. Kids 2 and under are free.

Follow me on Twitter @GDubCub.

Email: gwittenmyer@suntimes.com

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