Cubs-Nationals: Bryce Harper takes aim at Wrigley Field


Cubs-Nationals: Bryce Harper takes aim at Wrigley Field

You would love Bryce Harper if he played for your team.

The face of the Washington Nationals franchise has been covered in so much eye black that he’s looked like a professional wrestler. He went viral when he dropped “That’s a clown question, bro” on a reporter. He responded to getting thrown out of last week’s marquee game against the New York Yankees by firing back at umpire Marvin Hudson through the media: “I don’t think 40,000 people came to watch him ump tonight.”

“I don’t know what everybody else doesn’t like,” Cubs manager Joe Maddon said. “I like players that play hard and care and obviously he’s pretty good. So I probably would like him.”

Maddon laughed at that line, knowing Harper is the rare superstar who combines off-the-charts talent with maximum effort. At the age of 22, Harper led the majors in RBI (41), runs scored (39), walks (39), on-base percentage (.471) and slugging percentage (.728) on Memorial Day. His 16 homers led the National League.

[MORE: Like Cubs, Bryce Harper would've stuck Kris Bryant in minors]

Harper didn’t beat the Cubs on Monday afternoon, but the Nationals still managed to piece together a 2-1 victory, getting by with home runs from Denard Span and Wilson Ramos and a shutdown performance from their deep pitching staff.

The Cubs (24-20) got a good crowd (38,463) for a holiday and the first-place Nationals. Harper definitely appreciates the game’s history and wants to perform on the biggest stages. Just look at those four homers in 40 postseason at-bats already.   

“I love Wrigley,” Harper said. “You go out there to see the ivy, see the fans. I’m kind of sad there’s not going to be anybody in right field for me. But it’s a lot of fun playing here.

“I enjoy playing here and San Fran and Boston. Those are the three. It just feels like you’re in a ballpark in your backyard playing the game.”

In what appeared to be a mismatch, lefty Tsuyoshi Wada struck out Harper looking in the first inning. Harper sprinted for a double in the fourth inning after smacking a ball into right field, alertly tagging up when first baseman Anthony Rizzo caught up pop-up in foul territory, near the visiting bullpen.   

It looked like Harper wanted to break his bat after popping out against Wada in the sixth inning. Harper worked a six-pitch walk against lefty reliever Zac Rosscup in the eighth inning. 

Harper didn’t put on a show this time, but he will have two more chances this week at Clark and Addison.  

“I don’t think anybody’s going to be here Wednesday night, because they’re all going to be at the Hawks game,” Harper said. “I think everybody’s excited about that, too.”

[NBC SHOP: Gear up, Cubs fans!]

Before the game, Harper stood at his locker inside the cramped visiting clubhouse and patiently answered questions from the Chicago media for six-plus minutes, understanding his responsibility as an ambassador for the game.

Harper tried to deflect attention away from himself, crediting his teammates and manager Matt Williams for his hot start. He also lavishly praised Kris Bryant, his old teammate/rival from Las Vegas, and how the Cubs have reshaped their organization.   

“It’s just good for baseball to have two young guys on the same field,” Bryant said. “He’s doing his thing. I’m doing my thing. We’re just trying to help the team win. But, yeah, it was pretty cool seeing him out there today.”

Near the end of Harper’s media session, a reporter asked if he had checked the flags whipping around the stadium.

“No, I haven’t,” Harper said and smiled. “I don’t need wind. I’m good.”

Willson Contreras' bat-flip game is already in midseason form

Willson Contreras' bat-flip game is already in midseason form

The MLB regular season is still 13 days away, but Willson Contreras is ready for the swings to count.

The Cubs catcher hit an absolute bomb of a homer Friday afternoon off White Sox pitcher Reynaldo Lopez, but it wasn't just a homer.

Contreras put an exclamation mark on the dinger (his third of the spring and the second this week) with an A+ bat flip:

I'm not sure what's more majestic: The 450-foot shot or the 45-foot bat-flip.

Either way, Contreras is ready for those 2018 NL MVP votes.

Cubs opposition research: It's an even year, so count on a Giants comeback


Cubs opposition research: It's an even year, so count on a Giants comeback

The expectations couldn't be any higher for the 2018 Chicago Cubs. 

It's 2016 all over again. The goal isn't just a trip to the playoffs or another NL pennant. It's World Series or bust for this group of North Siders.

With that, let's take a look at all of the teams that could stand in the way of the Cubs getting back to the Fall Classic:

San Francisco Giants

2017 record: 64-98, last place in NL West

Offseason additions: Andrew McCutchen, Evan Longoria, Austin Jackson, Gregor Blanco, Tony Watson, Julian Fernandez

Offseason departures: Michael Morse, Matt Cain, Matt Moore, Denard Span, Kyle Crick, Christian Arroyo

X-factor: Brandon Belt

The trades for Longoria and McCutchen are going to get all the attention, but the Giants are sort of acquiring Belt, too. 

Their sweet-swining lefty first baseman only appeared in 104 games in 2017, missing the last few weeks of the season with a bad concussion. When he was on the field, he led the team in both homers (18) and walks (66) despite just 451 plate appearances. 

Belt has turned into one of the most patient hitters in the game and if he is able to stay healthy for a full season, would slot in perfectly in the 2-hole ahead of McCutchen, Longoria and Buster Posey. 

Projected lineup

1. Joe Panik - 2B
2. Brandon Belt - 1B
3. Andrew McCutchen - RF
4. Buster Posey - C
5. Evan Longoria - 3B
6. Hunter Pence - LF
7. Brandon Crawford - SS
8. Austin Jackson - CF

Projected rotation

1. Madison Bumgarner
2. Johnny Cueto
3. Jeff Samardzija
4. Ty Blach
5. Chris Stratton


The Giants tied for the worst record in Major League Baseball in 2017, surprising many around the league. Absolutely nothing went right for the team, from a lack of power on the field (Belt missed a third of the season and still led the team in homers), injuries (Bumgarner only made 17 starts) and general ineffectiveness (Mark Melancon).

But the Giants are a team that excels in even years, though the Cubs may have broken that juju by knocking San Fran out of the NLDS in 2016.

Still, between the return to health of key players and some big moves that improved the lineup, this team is primed for a return to form.

Watson is a nice piece at the back end of the bullpen and bet on a rebound from Melancon, who was one of the best late-inning relievers in the game from 2013-16 (1.80 ERA, 0.91 WHIP, 147 saves).

Expect more out of the rotation with Bumgarner and Cueto a dynamic 1-2 punch. Cubs fans are familiar with what Samardzija can do if he gets on a role, too.

It seems crazy to pick the Giants to finish higher than the Diamondbacks, but they still have the same core of players from the championship years and have a much-improved roster.

Prediction: Second place in NL West, wild-card team

Complete opposition research

San Diego Padres
Colorado Rockies
Arizona Diamondbacks
San Franciso Giants