Cubs

'Bash Brothers' 2.0: Kris Bryant, Anthony Rizzo will drive Cubs

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'Bash Brothers' 2.0: Kris Bryant, Anthony Rizzo will drive Cubs

Cubs fans can dream about Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo hitting back-to-back homers for the next six-plus years.

Theo Epstein’s front office has Bryant and Rizzo under control through the 2021 season. That covers Bryant’s age-23 through age-29 seasons. Rizzo won’t turn 30 until a few weeks after the 2019 All-Star Game. The rest of the National League will have to get used to this.

“(Rizzo) jokes around, like: This is ‘The Bash Brothers,’” Bryant said before Tuesday’s 6-1 win over the New York Mets at Wrigley Field. “We have fun with it. He’s just a good guy for me to learn from and watch how he goes about his business. I’m definitely having a whole lot of fun with him so far.”

Bryant and Rizzo won’t have the same attitude as Jose Canseco and Mark McGwire from those steroid-fueled Oakland A’s teams in the late 1980s and early 1990s. They’re way too polite, not edgy enough, more like family-friendly Disney characters. It even sounded like Rizzo — who was born in 1989 — actually might have been making a reference to “The Mighty Ducks.”

[MORE CUBS: Buzz is back for Cubs-Mets as Jake Arrieta upstages Noah Syndergaard]

Bryant almost hit for the cycle against the Mets, with the 6-foot-5 slugger hustling for an infield single, showing off his speed with a triple and crushing a ball that left fans in the left-field bleachers scrambling for the souvenir.

Bryant certainly isn’t one-dimensional. His long strides beat the throw from Mets third baseman Daniel Murphy with two outs in the third inning. The Cubs didn’t score during that sequence, but it forced 22-year-old flamethrower Noah Syndergaard to throw 18 extra pitches during his major-league debut.

“Any groundball I hit, I’m going to run as hard as I can,” Bryant said. “That’s something I can control. I believe that if you play the game the right way, it treats you the right way back. That’s how I approach the game. That’s how I always play.”

[MORE CUBS: Cubs need Jon Lester, the perfectionist, operating at full strength]

The Cubs are definitely feeling The Bryant Effect.

“He’s a baseball player, man,” manager Joe Maddon said “That’s the thing right there. That’s what you want. You want baseball players, a guy that plays the whole game, understands the concepts of offense and defense.

“The home runs are beautiful. Whatever. But how about the pick at third base? That was a great play. You’re talking about (how) that’s the second time he’s beat out a routine groundball in a week.

“He’s hit balls very far. But it’s a baseball player. Everybody’s always just talking about this guy as though he’s just a power hitter. Whatever. He’s a baseball player and a really good one.”

[SHOP CUBS: Get a Kris Bryant jersey right here]

Bryant is heating up after not hitting a home run in his first 91 major-league plate appearances, homering in three of his last four games.

“They’re still trying to get the book on him,” Rizzo said, “how you can get him out, where he’s hot, where he’s cold. I just keep telling him: Keep taking those walks.

“If you keep going up there having quality at-bats, like he’s doing, good things are going to come out of it.”

All this the night after Bryant and Rizzo hit back-to-back homers into the bleachers off Jacob deGrom, the 2014 NL Rookie of the Year, which set the tone in the first inning of a 4-3 victory over the first-place Mets.

At a time when offense is down throughout the game, the Cubs have hoarded power hitters. Bryant led minor-league baseball with 43 homers last year. Rizzo doesn’t look satisfied with one All-Star selection, putting up a 1.055 OPS so far this season. Maybe this could be Bash Brothers 2.0.

When Kyle Schwarber met new Cubs hitting coach Chili Davis: 'I don't suck'

When Kyle Schwarber met new Cubs hitting coach Chili Davis: 'I don't suck'

MESA, Ariz. — The first thing Kyle Schwarber told his new hitting coach?

"His first statement to me is, 'I don't suck.'"

The Cubs hired Chili Davis as the team's new hitting coach for myriad reasons. He's got a great track record from years working with the Boston Red Sox and Oakland Athletics, and that .274/.360/.451 slash line during an illustrious 19-year big league career certainly helps.

But Davis' main immediate task in his new gig will be to help several of the Cubs' key hitters prove Schwarber's assessment correct.

Schwarber had a much-publicized tough go of things in 2017. After he set the world on fire with his rookie campaign in 2015 and returned from what was supposed to be a season-ending knee injury in time to be one of the Cubs' World Series heroes in 2016, he hit just .211 last season, getting sent down to Triple-A Iowa for a stint in the middle of the season. Schwarber still hit 30 home runs, but his 2017 campaign was seen as a failure by a lot of people.

Enter Davis, who now counts Schwarber as one of his most important pupils.

"He's a worker," Davis said in an interview with NBC Sports Chicago. "Schwarbs, he knows he's a good player. His first statement to me is, 'I don't suck.' He said last year was just a fluke year. He said, 'I've never failed in my life.' And he said, 'I'm going to get back to the player that I was.'

"I think he may have — and this is my thought, he didn't say this to me — I think it may have been, he had a big World Series, hit some homers, and I think he tried to focus on being more of a home run type guy as opposed to being a good hitter.

"His focus has changed. I had nothing to do with that, he came in here with that focus that he wants to be a good hitter first and let whatever happens happen. And he's worked on that. The main thing with Kyle is going to be is just maintaining focus."

The physically transformed Schwarber mentioned last week that he's established a good relationship with Davis, in no small part because Schwarber can relate to what Davis went through when he was a player. And to hear Davis tell it, it sounds like he's describing Schwarber's first three years as a big leaguer to a T.

"Telling him my story was important because it was similar," Davis said. "I was a catcher, got to big league camp, and I was thrown in the outfield. And I hated the outfield. ... But I took on the challenge. I made the adjustment, I had a nice first year, then my second year I started spiraling. I started spiraling down, and I remember one of my coaches saying, 'I'm going to have to throw you a parachute just so you can land softly.' I got sent down to Triple-A at the All-Star break for 15 days.

"When I got sent down, I was disappointed, but I was also really happy. I needed to get away from the big league pressure and kind of find myself again. I went home and refocused myself and thought to myself, 'I'm going to come back as Chili.' Because I tried to change, something changed about me the second year.

"And when I did that, I came back the next year and someone tried to change me and I said, 'Pump the breaks a little bit, let me fail my way, and then I'll come to you if I'm failing.' And they understood that, and I had a nice year, a big year and my career took off.

"I'm telling him, 'Hey, let last year go. It happened, it's in the past. Keep working hard, maintain your focus, and you'll be fine.'"

Getting Schwarber right isn't Davis' only task, of course. Despite the Cubs being one of the highest-scoring teams in baseball last season, they had plenty of guys go through subpar seasons. Jason Heyward still has yet to find his offensive game since coming to Chicago as a high-priced free agent. Ben Zobrist was bothered by a wrist injury last season and put up the worst numbers of his career. Addison Russell had trouble staying healthy, as well, and saw his numbers dip from what they were during the World Series season in 2016.

So Davis has plenty of charges to work with. But he likes what he's seen so far.

"They work," Davis said. "They come here to work. I had a group of guys in Boston that were the same last year, and it makes my job easier. They want to get better, they come out every day, they show up, they want to work. They're excited, and I'm excited to be around them.

And what have the Cubs found out about Davis? Just about everyone answers that question the same way: He likes to talk.

"I'm not going to stop talking," he said. "If I stop talking, something's wrong."

SportsTalk Live Podcast: Andre Dawson talks about his Cubs reunion

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USA TODAY

SportsTalk Live Podcast: Andre Dawson talks about his Cubs reunion

Carmen DeFalco (ESPN 1000) and Jordan Bernfield join Kap on the panel. Anthony Rizzo returns to the Cubs after an emotional weekend home while Tom Ricketts expects another World Series parade. Plus Hall of Famer Andre Dawson joins Kap to talk about his Cubs reunion and how the current crop unsigned free agents compares to his experiences with collusion.