Cubs

Kris Bryant's laser focus could be key to unlocking Cubs offense

Kris Bryant's laser focus could be key to unlocking Cubs offense

Kris Bryant got the faux in-game interview from his Cubs teammates in the Wrigley Field dugout on Tuesday night, with Tommy La Stella up close and personal with the reigning National League MVP, Ian Happ gripping a boom microphone held together with white tape and Javier Baez holding an imaginary TV camera over his right shoulder.

Did La Stella ask Bryant about his numbers with runners in scoring position?

Bryant had just launched a Robert Gsellman changeup into the left-center field bleachers for a three-run homer that allowed the Cubs to exhale in the fourth inning of an 8-3 win over the New York Mets and maintain their slim leads on the St. Louis Cardinals (2 games) and Milwaukee Brewers (2.5 games) in the National League Central. 

“I didn’t even know there was negativity around,” said Bryant, who until that moment hadn’t homered or driven in a run in September, including an ugly three-game sweep over the weekend where the Brewers outscored the Cubs by a 20-3 aggregate. “I just don’t pay attention to it. I’m glad I haven’t seen it or heard it. 

“Nobody’s talking about it here, so it just comes with the territory. We signed up for this. We wouldn’t have it any other way.”

To be clear, Bryant isn’t the problem here as the Cubs try to rewire their offense for October, but he will always be part of the solution, because he can impact the game in so many different ways. Pulling out his RBI total – he got his 63rd with a bases-loaded sacrifice fly to the warning track in center field in the eighth inning – and batting average with runners in scoring position (.212) doesn’t tell the entire story.

“It doesn’t feel right, but you’re going to have years like that,” Bryant said. “It just feels weird taking more walks with runners in scoring position. Obviously, we’re baseball players and we want to hit the ball, but it’s important to take your walks when they give ‘em.

“I feel like I’ve been able to do that this year. I’ve probably had a handful of times where I could have put some pitches in play – just to get a run in – but I took the walk. It’s kind of a fine line there.”

This is part of the evolution of Bryant, who leads the team in runs scored (96), walks (87) and OPS (.929). His .402 on-base percentage is 17 points higher than where he finished during his MVP season. He recognizes and attacks his weaknesses, steadily chopping down his strikeout percentage from his 2015 Rookie of the Year campaign (30.6) to his MVP year (22) to this season (18.9). He remains an excellent base runner and a solid defender at third base and all over the outfield.

Manager Joe Maddon made the analogy to Jake Arrieta trying to live up to the impossible expectations set during his 2015 Cy Young Award season. Bryant (26 homers) sees the parallels with Cincinnati Reds technician Joey Votto, who hates giving in to pitchers, understands who he is as a hitter and ignores Marty Brennaman’s hitting lessons. 

“There’s no need to press about it,” Bryant said. “Sure, it would be nice to go out there and hit .300 every year with runners in scoring position and just do everything right. But this game’s hard. It’s not going to come that easy to you every year. I wish it would.

“Actually, I don’t know if I wish it would, because then it wouldn’t be fun. You kind of enjoy the ups and downs in this game, because when you’re in a down spot and come out of it, it just feels so much better. It’s important for us to realize that.” 

Bryant said that with a nod and walked out of the clubhouse with his phone and a book in his left hand, Shawn Green’s “The Way of Baseball: Finding Stillness at 95 mph.”

What Chicago sports fans should be thankful for

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USA TODAY

What Chicago sports fans should be thankful for

Families gather and people talk about things they are thankful for on Thanksgiving, but what are Chicago sports fans happy for now?

Raised expectations on the North Side

Got to be thankful that a “disappointing” season is winning the division and losing in the NLCS. The expectations have skyrocketed, and that’s thanks to a ridiculous nucleus of bats and a steady front office. Not many clubs can say that. Also, though, it’s important to be appreciative of the Wrigley bar stretch. They may charge $8 for a Miller Lite, but it’s always a damn good party.

Javy tags, too. Don't forget Javy tags.

Rebuild sparking hope in White Sox fans

Where to begin? Obviously, be thankful for the plethora of young talent that will soon take over the South Side. Be thankful for Avi Time (while you still can). Be thankful that taking your friends or family to a game won’t cause you to take out a second mortgage. Be thankful for the 2020 World Series and, of course, 2020 MVP Eloy Jimenez. But most importantly, be thankful that Rick Hahn’s phone stays buzzing.

Eddie O back in the booth for the Blackhawks

The Blackhawks are having a rough start to the season, but at least Eddie Olczyk is back in the booth. The longtime Blackhawks broadcaster returned to the booth on Oct. 18 after missing time while undergoing chemotherapy treatments for colon cancer.

With some of the key names from the Blackhawks’ title runs either leaving or being unable to play this season (in the case of Marian Hossa), Blackhawks fans are probably thankful to see a familiar face and hear a familiar voice during games.

Lauri Markkanen leading the Bulls rebuild

OK, there’s not much to be thankful for about the current Bulls team. At 3-13, the Bulls are tied for the fewest wins in the NBA (maybe in the long-term that’s something to be thankful for as well). However, Zach LaVine’s pending debut after his eventual return from injury should help create some excitement.

The thing Bulls fans really should be thankful for this year is the play of rookie Lauri Markkanen. The 20-year-old leads the team in scoring (14.6 points per game) and rebounds (8.3 per game) while shooting at a high percentage (34.2 percent on threes and 50.6 percent on twos). It’s only the beginning of the Bulls’ rebuild, but Markkanen is a good start.

Mitchapalooza

If a few things broke the Bears’ way, Chicagoans could have been grateful that the team was finally out of the cellar. Instead, we’ll settle for the fact that there seems to be some building blocks already in place. Mitchell Trubisky, Tarik Cohen, Leonard Floyd and Akiem Hicks seem to fit that category. Also, some may be thankful that this is likely John Fox’s last season at the helm.

Fire ending a playoff drought

After finishing dead last in MLS in 2015 and 2016, the Fire were one of the most improved teams in the league in 2017. After posting the third best record in the league, the Fire made a first playoff appearance since 2012.

The playoff run didn’t last long with the Fire losing a play-in game at home, but the arrival of Bastian Schweinsteiger and the league’s leading goal-scorer, Nemanja Nikolic, helped fill the stadium with six sellouts and gave Fire fans something to cheer for.

Cubs Talk Podcast: Where do Cubs go from here with Jake Arrieta, Wade Davis?

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USA TODAY

Cubs Talk Podcast: Where do Cubs go from here with Jake Arrieta, Wade Davis?

In the latest CubsTalk Podcast, Kelly Crull and David Kaplan look ahead to Thanksgiving and discuss the official coaching hires for the Cubs.

They also talk about where the Cubs go from here with Jake Arrieta and Wade Davis, whether Alex Cobb could factor into the rotation plans and Kap goes off on the 11:30 a.m. Opening Day start time.

Check out the entire podcast here: