LOS ANGELES – To get a better idea why Theo Epstein’s front office invested $184 million in Jason Heyward – and how Cubs manager Joe Maddon thinks through the lineup – just listen to Kris Bryant.
The National League’s leading MVP candidate explained Heyward’s value to the best team in baseball late Friday night at Dodger Stadium after blasting his 34th and 35th home runs during a 10-inning comeback victory.
Bryant, a particularly gracious teammate, credited Heyward for sparking the ninth-inning rally against Los Angeles closer Kenley Jansen, hitting a leadoff double and taking advantage of a misplayed strike three and a wild pitch to score the game-tying run.
“We all know what he can do at the plate,” Bryant said. “Everybody knows what he can do in the field. He’s a huge asset to this team. If it wasn’t for him getting us started there, we wouldn’t have won the game. Simple as that.
“Heads-up base-running (is) something that you really can’t teach. And he has it. It’s just awesome to see him come out and compete every day.
“It inspires me. It makes me want to be like him, always keeping your head up, always being a great teammate, being so positive. I can’t say enough about him.”
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Maybe a road trip that began with Heyward getting a mental break and sitting through three games at Coors Field becomes a turning point in a poor offensive season (.229 average/.629 OPS). In his first game back after that reboot, Heyward homered against the San Diego Padres, hitting his first one in almost a month.
After sitting against Los Angeles lefty Julio Urias – with Maddon wanting to get Jorge Soler involved – Heyward came off the bench to deliver a pinch-hit RBI single off reliever Pedro Baez in the seventh inning of Saturday afternoon’s 3-2 loss at Dodger Stadium (and then get thrown out trying to steal second base).
“He’s not hit to his level yet this year, but he plays a significant game on a nightly basis,” Maddon said. “He doesn’t cry about things. He doesn’t make excuses. He shows up and he plays. That’s why I say he’s a winner.
“The hitting’s going to be there. I’m telling you it’s going to be there. And it’s going to be there at the right time this year – and for years to come.
“He’s just had a tough moment and he’s been digging himself out of a hole all year at the plate. But every place else, he’s among the best in the game right now.”
That’s why the Cubs can sacrifice a measure of offense in the playoffs and still thrive with Heyward’s Gold Glove defense, speed and instincts.
“Jason does set a great example daily,” Maddon said. “Because a lot of guys going through that moment would not be the teammate that he is and pick up everybody else.
“A lot of times when guys aren’t hitting, they go, ‘Oh, my self-worth goes down. Should I pop off? Should I say something?’ Guys who have carried their batting average on their sleeve and then react accordingly – that’s not good. Just be who you are. He has a lot to bring on a daily basis, even if he’s not 3-for-4.”
The Cubs also remember Heyward as a tough out and a dynamic lineup presence for the St. Louis Cardinals during last year’s playoffs. And everyone will forget the numbers from the regular season if Heyward performs in the postseason.
“Once October starts,” Heyward said, “you got to be on. That’s the way we’re trying to look at it.”