They didn’t show it with their play, but the Cubs were still in the clutches of their historic 2016 season through the first half of 2017.
Even World Series MVP Ben Zobrist could feel it, and not in a good way.
Letting go of that wonderful but weighty achievement in the second half could be a key to redemption by season’s end.
“We have to get to the point where last year is literally gone,” Zobrist said Sunday. “It was tough doing that the first half. But if we stay with ‘today,’ that’s where we’ll have our best games.”
It wasn’t just that 108 years of futility were erased last season. It was how the team dominated, showcasing a host of young players, rallying through the playoffs and then staging a dramatic World Series comeback.
The fanfare that followed didn’t go unnoticed by opponents.
“These other teams are good, too, and they’re showing up to play us,” Zobrist said. “They know we’re the reigning world champions. They pitch well and play well against us.”
Nor has it helped that the Cubs have been beset by injuries this year that largely were absent in 2016. Zobrist knows that personally.
“It’s been one of my toughest years,” said the versatile veteran, who has been on the disabled list twice this season. “Injuries, inconsistency. But that’s why it’s a long season.”
Manager Joe Maddon has said the same thing through the first half, which ended with an embarrassing 14-3 drubbing by the Pirates.
Zobrist is among a half-dozen Cubs who have been sidelined. But Maddon hopes the time off will have his troops rested and ready for a second-half surge that will carry them to the playoffs.
In fact, he has been managing through the up-and-down first half with an eye toward that goal.
“My experience has shown me to be careful to push too hard [coming off a successful season],” Maddon said. “There’s definitely something to the phrase ‘learning how to win.’ Players who have done it before don’t change. You’ll see a looseness about them.
“We’re set up for a good August and September. We’ll see if that holds.”
From that viewpoint, Zobrist believes the All-Star break will be a good thing.
“There was some fatigue going into spring training [and the first half]. The DL was good for me to stop me from trying to push through all the [physical] things bothering me.
“These next extra four days [off] will make me all the more excited to come back.”
Zobrist thinks the same will be true for his teammates, with only closer Wade Davis representing the Cubs in the All-Star Game.
“There’s no problem in confidence,” Zobrist said. “We know what we have and what we are as a team. It starts with a mindset to maintain focus, get in the game and lock in on every pitch and all the little pieces of the game. I know we can do that collectively in the second half.
“We’re ready to turn the page. We just have to turn on the burners.”
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