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.”