Powell: A Refreshed and ‘Hungry’ Cubs Team Is Back for 2018; Other Spring Training Notes

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Cubs introduce pitcher Yu Darvish. (WGN Radio)

By Kevin Powell

MESA, Ariz. — The Cubs’ 2017 season was truly like something we’ve never seen before – a team trying to repeat as World Series champions after ending a 108-year drought.

“It’s hard to put into words the kind of impact that the kind of championship in 2016 has on a team,” Ben Zobrist said. “I don’t think anyone’s ever really had to deal with that in baseball.”

The Houston Astros may have just won their first championship but the magnitude of that win pales in comparison to the Cubs’ 2016 title.

“You talk about how much pressure was on our team, and getting to that Game 7 and winning a championship that hasn’t been done in a 108 years,” Zobrist said.  “I think everybody was satisfied, as faras Cubs Nation goes.”

The World Series MVP did admit that it was hard to find the sort of drive that propelled them to the top of the baseball world just two seasons ago.

“As players, you gotta find a way to turn it back on. That’s not easy to do. From the top to the bottom it was a difficult road to try and get everybody back to the frame of mind – the same hunger we had in ’16. We just weren’t ourselves the whole first half of last year….I just think that there was a lot of fatigue.”

The Cubs went just 40-40 through the first three months of the season. And at the All-Star break, they were 5.5 games back in the division. Widespread panic hit the streets of Chicago.

The Cardinals and Brewers weren’t able to pull way and the Cubs went 19-9 in September to put away the division rivals. But obviously, division titles are not what the club is looking for.

“Nobody in the room is going ‘Oh, we were division-winners last year.’ Nobody really cares about that at this point. We want to be World Series champions again,” Zobrist said.

Considering the amount of fatigue – or whatever you want to call it – the Cubs experienced, it’s pretty impressive they were still able to win the Central and make it back to the NLCS in 2017.

With a little extra rest and a newly remodeled starting rotation, the Cubs will undoubtedly be in contention for another World Series this year.

“The hunger is back,” Zobrist said.  “We’re excited to get back at it, and prove to the league that we’re the best team again.”

THE RETURN OF RIZZO

Frist baseman Anthony Rizzo left the team last week to grieve with friends and family in Parkland, Fla., following the deadly mass shooting at his alma mater – Stoneman Douglas High.

“I can’t wait to see the big guy in the clubhouse,” shortstop Addison Russell said.

Rizzo is expected back in Arizona on Sunday, in time to rejoin his teammates for the first full squad workout on Monday.

“I’m looking forward to giving him a big hug and just welcoming him back,” Zobrist said.

TYLER CHATWOOD HAPPY TO BE A CUB

Yu Darvish was the big catch this offseason, but Tyler Chatwood was an important signing to fill out the rotation and give the team depth at the starting pitching position. And although it may have been tougher for Theo & Co. to convince Darvish to sign with the team, Chatwood was all in from the get-go.

“They didn’t have to sell much to me. Just playing against them a little bit, and, obviously, all the history with the Cubs, going to Wrigley, it kind of sells itself.”

The 28-year-old signed a 3-year, $38 million contract this offseason.

Kevin Powell covers Chicago baseball for WGN Radio and anchors sports on The Roe Conn Show with Anna Davlantes, M-F/3-7p. Follow on twitter @kpowell720