Rozner: Why a longer winter should pay off for the Cubs

A year ago Saturday, billions made the pilgrimage to Grant Park, paying homage to the world champs, on bended knees in tribute to those who delivered the faithful from a century-old nightmare.

OK, maybe it wasn't quite billions, but it sure was a big party.

And my, how the Chicago baseball world has changed in a year.

Expectations are a good thing. You know you're terrible if there aren't any at all, but now the Cubs are required to win the World Series every year and that might be a Bryan LaHair unreasonable.

The 2000 Yankees are the last team to repeat and it looks to be getting more difficult with each passing season.

It's not as obvious when you're watching from 1,000 feet, but from 1,000 miles it's much easier to see, and you need look only at what the Astros and Dodgers just went through to understand how hard it is to get back to the World Series - win or lose.

Since Arizona deprived New York of a four-peat in 2001, only three teams have reached the Fall Classic in consecutive years.

Kansas City lost in 2014 and came back to win it the next season. Texas lost two years in a row (2010-11). And Philadelphia won in 2008 and lost in 2009.

That's it.

What's surprising is the number of conversations occurring over the past few weeks with respected baseball people who simply don't buy the fatigue factor, especially as it applies to the Cubs' core.

They're too young to be tired is the line consistently repeated.

But it was real. It is real. It will continue to be real.

The physical part is obvious. Pitching staffs get abused with deep postseason runs, and even managers who don't pull starters for no logical reason find their hurlers lacking the following season.

There simply isn't the pitching depth available, perhaps because pitchers aren't trained to go deep into games anymore.

Regardless, position players lose about a month from their normal off-season routine and when you toss in Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year's, spring training arrives quickly and players feel like the winter break never occurred.

Laugh if you want, mock if you need, but this is real and it's spectacularly debilitating.

After the Cubs were eliminated by the Dodgers, Kris Bryant looked like the walking dead. He was unashamed to say he was beaten physically and mentally, and he had no reason to be ashamed.

But that's the side of the argument that doesn't get proper acknowledgment.

Bryant returned home just before Thanksgiving last year, took a short time off before starting workouts again and didn't stop until the Dodgers took out the Cubs.

When he left a few weeks ago, Bryant said he wanted to sit on his couch and do nothing for a long time.

That's the mental side. That's the fatigue.

The Cubs' party lasted through the winter, past spring training and into the first few weeks of the season.

It was a small price to pay for the greatest celebration in sports history, but pay a price the players did while being pulled in many directions with constant distraction.

Aside from the physical part of it, where the Cubs were not good enough to compete with the Dodgers, the Cubs were just never quite right in 2017, just a tad off in execution and that's all it takes to lose games you were winning the year before.

Yes, they were exhausted and there's no disgrace in admitting or accepting it.

It's just a fact.

Over the next six weeks, teams will be building their rosters and a picture of 2018 will start to take shape.

Meanwhile, Cubs players will rest.

There's no doubt that they need it.

• Hear Barry Rozner on WSCR 670-AM and follow him @BarryRozner on Twitter.

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