It’s only the middle of August, but the Cubs are already getting questions about October lineups, the odd man out of the playoff rotation and how soon before the best team in baseball starts thinking about shaping the postseason roster.
This is really all Kris Bryant knows as a Cub. No rebuilding seasons, no wait until next year, just a realistic expectation to win the World Series now and keep winning later.
If not for his partnership in Bryzzo Souvenir Co., Bryant might be the National League’s clear-cut MVP favorite, instead of potentially splitting the Baseball Writers’ Association of America vote with Anthony Rizzo.
Bryant launched two more home-run balls during Thursday afternoon’s 9-6 win over the Milwaukee Brewers at Wrigley Field, going 5-for-5 with five RBI and falling a triple short of hitting for the cycle. That made Bryant the fifth player in franchise history with 30 homers in an age-24-or-younger season, joining Ernie Banks, Ron Santo, Sammy Sosa and Rizzo.
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“He always jokes around with me, saying: ‘You know, when Miguel Cabrera won the Triple Crown, Prince Fielder was hitting behind him,’” Bryant said. “He always tells me: ‘I’m your Prince.’”
Bryant leads in homers (30-25) and batting average (.296-.291), while Rizzo has driven in eight more runs (86) and posted a fractionally higher .OPS (.960-.956). Rizzo is a Gold Glove-caliber defender at first base, while Bryant is an All-Star third baseman who can be shifted all over the infield or moved to any outfield position.
“I can’t say enough about having him behind me,” Bryant said, “as a mentor and someone I learn a lot from (with) how he goes about his at-bats. Even though he’s a lefty and I’m righty, it seems to me – and to him – that they pitch us very similarly.
“That (MVP talk), honestly, is just a byproduct of us pushing each other and really expecting more out of one another.”
If Rizzo finds the right balance between goofy and competitive within the right clubhouse, then Bryant brings a cool sense of professionalism and purpose, a Rookie of the Year who blended in easily and blocked out the hype.
“This guy’s work ethic is incredible,” said manager Joe Maddon, who won’t reveal his MVP pick. “He’s a very humble man, too. It’s not all about me. I know his picture’s everywhere, but he doesn’t act that way. He takes his craft seriously. He loves to play the game.”
Beating a nondescript Brewers team four times in almost a 48-hour window doesn’t say all that much about the Cubs, who have drained all the suspense from the division race, running away from the St. Louis Cardinals (13 games back) and Pittsburgh Pirates (14) while going 24-8 since the All-Star break and pushing their run differential to plus-209.
But until now, the Cubs hadn’t gone on an 18-for-21 winning stretch since 1945, their last pennant-winning season. And having Rizzo and Bryant under club control through the 2021 season means that whatever happens, the party won’t stop in Wrigleyville.
“I was asked about (Bryant) when he was first coming up into the league,” winning pitcher Jake Arrieta said. “‘What do you got on this guy?’ I told them: ‘He’s going to be one of the top-five hitters in the game the day he makes his debut.’ I think that’s pretty accurate.”