What a difference two weeks makes.
Ben Zobrist won't ever tell anybody that he was relieved the Cubs were bounced from the postseason on Oct. 19 last fall without another trip to the World Series. But those extra two weeks off and not grinding out at-bats against the best pitchers in the world have done wonders for the veteran utility man after back-to-back World Series runs.
"Last year, just a lot of little bumps and bruises," Joe Maddon said. "Two World Series in a row — there's some long seasons involved. I don't think his body responded as well.
"He spent a lot of time this offseason specifically trying to be ready for this season. I tell you what, he's looked great. ... He did something about it this offseason."
Many people were quick to write off Zobrist after a down 2017 campaign, assuming the former World Series MVP would just fade into the background in 2018.
Zobrist turns 37 next week, but the only way you'd know that is the fact he is constantly given days off to rest his aging body by Maddon.
Don't let the part-time role or the recent CleatGate ordeal distract you from the fact Zobrist has been very, very important to the Cubs' success over the first quarter of the season.
When he's been on the field, it's been shades of 2016 Zobrist, when he emerged as arguably the most important cog in the Cubs lineup. Everybody expects Bryzzo Souvenir Co. to put up gaudy numbers each summer but in that magical 2016 season, Zobrist spent a lot of the year in the cleanup spot, providing protection to Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo.
This year, Zobrist has been asked to do something totally different — set the table for the big boppers.
And with the ascension of Javy Baez at second base, Zobrist has also been asked to play more and more in the outfield — 13 starts in right or left field compared to only 5 starts at second base. In 2016-17, Zobrist made 178 starts at second vs. 69 starts on the outfield grass.
After an injury-plagued 2017 campaign in which he hit .232 with a .318 on-base percentage and .693 OPS, Zobrist decided not to take any swings for a while over the winter to let his ailing wrist heal, but he had no intentions of sitting around, taking his usual four weeks off from working out.
"As time has gone on, taking time off is not necessarily good," Zobrist said. "When you get your body going and you're in good shape, you try to stay in shape. Maybe you lose it a little quicker as you get a little bit older and you're playing the game.
"Time off would be like staying away from working out for a month to let your body heal, which is what I did for most of my career. Three or four weeks of just activity I would do as a normal person, like I might play with my kids, I might shoot hoops or sometehing like that. But I'm not doing any sort of work out to try to be in shape.
"This year, it was like, OK, even though mentally I don't want to start yet, physically I need to stay in it 'cause I don't wanna lose that shape I was in at the end of the season."
Zobrist didn't even start swinging a bat until mid-December to let his wrist heal fully and focused instead on "building a foundation" for his body.
All that work he spent in the offseason sure seems to be paying off.
He's hitting .290 with a .365 on-base percentage on the season and has 2 of the 4 Cubs game-winning hits on the season — in Miami in the first week and then again Tuesday night in Atlanta.
As Maddon works to navigate the lineup on a daily basis, Zobrist has become the clear favorite to lead off against right-handed pitchers in most games.
But he's also hit second, third, fourth, fifth, sixth and seventh while filling in at first base when Rizzo was injured and also serving as a defensive replacement for Kyle Schwarber in left field often.
Even still, Zobrist is only on pace for 116 games played and 386 at-bats as Maddon tries to keep him frisky. Since becoming a full-time player in 2009, Zobrist has never played in fewer than 126 games in a season and has racked up at least 435 at-bats every year.
After games in which he does start, you can find Zobrist sitting with Cubs advanced scouting hitting coordinator Nate Halm, going over video and talking passionately about Zobrist's swing and how his physical movements match up with his thoughts and approach.
"That's where I'm trying to be more detailed ahead of the game and after the game with, 'OK, well, what was I thinking? What did I do and what about it did I like? What did I not like?" Zobrist said. "Bouncing stuff off him so he can hear those thoughts coming out."
It's just more proof that Zobrist is one of the best offensive minds in the Cubs clubhouse, always thinking along with the game.
Even if the Cubs are worried about his body holding up over the course of the long season, Zobrist's mind doesn't appear to be fading any time soon.
And when the game is on the line in a crucial moment, who else would Cubs fans rather have up at the plate right now?