Cubs

Kris Bryant earns prestigious Hank Aaron Award as NL's top hitter

Kris Bryant earns prestigious Hank Aaron Award as NL's top hitter

CLEVELAND - The World Series isn't over yet, but the awards are already rolling in for the Cubs.

Kris Bryant was named the Hank Aaron Award winner Wednesday evening, an accolade for the best hitter in each league. Aaron was on hand at the World Series in Cleveland to hand the award to Bryant and American League recipient David Ortiz, the now-retired Boston Red Sox legend.

"I want to thank all the fans and everyone who supported me for this award," Bryant said. "It's truly an honor to be up here with two of the best baseball players to ever play this game. I grew up watching Big Papi on the Red Sox get to this point and win a World Series, and hopefully I can do that here.

To accept an award with one of the best baseball players ever with [Hank Aaron's] name on it is a true honor for me, so thank you."

Bryant led the National League with 121 runs scored while also slugging 39 homers and driving in 102 runs. He hit .292 with a .385 on-base percentage and .554 slugging percentage (for a .939 OPS).

“Well, it’s ‘Hammerin’ KB,’” manager Joe Maddon said. “Just be a young player in KB’s shoes, and to win that award and then have that particular man present it to you, it’s impressive. It’s very impressive at a young age to be considered and then win it. There’s a lot of great competition out there.

“An award like this for KB could absolutely galvanize his thoughts about himself as a Major League Baseball player. It’s a great achievement for him. I’m very happy for him. And I know he will humbly accept it in the right way.”

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After winning Rookie of the Year honors last season, Bryant may also be in line for the NL MVP this year as the anchor of a 103-win Cubs team.

"Kris, I watched him all year," Aaron said. "And I must say without any pun intended, that the Cubs are my favorite, of course. And the reason for that is because my friend who is no longer here, Mr. Ernie Banks. He was an idol of mine. I loved him, and I'm sure wherever he is today, he is smiling in his grave.

"I just want to say that I am smiling with him. I just wish that he could be here to play one more game, as he always said."

Josh Donaldson was the American League winner last season while Bryce Harper took home the NL honors.

Bryant is the second Cubs player to win the award after Sammy Sosa in 1999 (the first ever Hank Aaron Award). That season, Sosa hit 63 homers with 141 RBI, 114 rusn and a 1.002 OPS.

Even the Indians can't deny the lasting impact Cubs have on Progressive Field

Even the Indians can't deny the lasting impact Cubs have on Progressive Field

CLEVELAND — Even the Indians can't deny the lasting impact Cubs have on Progressive Field.

Namely, the impact the Cubs left on the floor of the visiting locker room.

With 18 months in between visits, one of the first things the Cubs noticed about their clubhouse at Progressive Field was the new carpet.

"It's probably necessary," Joe Maddon said with a smile. "So some good things have come from all that stuff, too, for the visitors. You get new interior decorating."

After the Indians blew a 3-1 lead in the 2016 World Series, the Cubs — and Bill Murray — dumped an awful lot of champagne and Budwesier on the old carpets.

Like, A LOT. 

"Oh yeah," Addison Russell said, "I think we messed it up pretty good."

It'd be hard to fault the Cubs for an epic celebration to honor the end of a 108-year championship drought, especially the way in which they accomplished the feat with maybe the most incredible baseball game ever played.

As the Cubs returned to the emotional, nostalgic-riddled scene of that historic fall, the parallels were striking.

Exactly 18 months before Tuesday, the Cubs walked into Progressive Field for the start of the World Series in 54 degree Cleveland weather with overcast skies and a pestering little drizzle.

Tuesday, the Cubs walked back into Progressive Field in 54 degree Cleveland weather with overcast skies and a pestering little drizzle.

A bunch of Cubs also found their lockers in the same place in that visiting locker room.

Russell, Ben Zobrist, Kyle Schwarber, Jason Heyward, Anthony Rizzo and Jon Lester all have their lockers in the same spots this week as they had for the 2016 Fall Classic.

Some clubhouses go in numerical order, some go based on position groups. The Indians don't really seem to fall under either camp, considering Lester was surrounded by all position players in the corner of the locker room, where — before Tuesday —was last seen giving a heartfelt "thank you" to the media for "putting up with him" all season.

"Just walking back into the stadium from the bus into the clubhouse, you get the sense of nostalgia," Russell said. "I see that they replaced the carpet, which is nice. But yeah, the weight room, the food room, I just remember walking around here having that World Series Champs shirt on.

"It's a great memory. I think this is the same locker I had as well. Everything's just fitting like a puzzle piece right now and it's pretty awesome."

Kyle Schwarber is basically Superman in Cleveland

Kyle Schwarber is basically Superman in Cleveland

CLEVELAND — Kyle Schwarber LOVES hitting in Cleveland.

It's like he morphs into a superhero just by stepping foot into the left-handed batter's box at Progressive Field.

Playing in Cleveland for the first time since his legendary return to the field in the 2016 World Series, Schwarber went absolutely bonkers on a Josh Tomlin pitch in the second inning Tuesday night:

That wasn't just any homer, however. 

The 117.1 mph dinger was the hardest-hit ball by any Cubs hitter in the era of exit velocity, aka since Statcast was invented in 2015:

Schwarber followed that up with another solo blast into the right-field bleachers in the fourth inning off Tomlin.

Schwarber — an Ohio native — collected his first MLB hit at Progressive Field back on June 17, 2015 in his second career game. He went 6-for-9 in that series with a triple, homer and 4 RBI.

Couple that with his World Series totals and the first two times up Tuesday and Schwarber has hit .500 with a .545 on-base percentage and .900 slugging percentage in his first 33 trips to the plate in Cleveland.