How the Cubs are trying to help Kris Bryant out of his slump

How the Cubs are trying to help Kris Bryant out of his slump

Whatever Kris Bryant does from here, it's just frosting on the cake that is his legacy.

That's one way to look at the lasting impact of a guy like Bryant, who morphed from "The Chosen One" as the No. 2 overall pick. He's lived up to the hype from Day 1, has a Rookie of the Year and NL MVP Award in his trophy case and — most importantly of all — led the Cubs to their first World Series championship in 108 years.

A slump in May and June of 2018 won't tarnish that legacy.

But you can also forgive Cubs fans if they're growing a little antsy with their stud player. 

Just rest easy that he's growing a little antsy, too.

After chronicling his "temper tantrums" and actually admitting he gets so angry he is prone to breaking bats in frustration (still find that really hard to believe) last week, Bryant still isn't quite over his slump.

Maybe he's just simply trying to do too much right now.

"Kris is fine," Jon Lester said. "I mean, I think anytime you have a guy like that, he's got such high expectations not only of himself but the other people outside of the baseball world.

"I think he feels that — he feels pressure from his teammates, he feels pressure from himself and he wants to perform and he wants to do well every night. When he doesn't, it seems like he just keeps adding on. The rock on his back gets a little bigger every time."

As recently as May 22, Bryant was hitting .303 with a 1.007 OPS.

But since then — a span of 21 games — he's hitting just .241 with a .316 on-base percentage and .310 slugging percentage, good for a .627 OPS. More alarming than anything, he's struck out 28 times in 87 at-bats, taking a step back in the area he has made the most improvement in since breaking into the league in 2015.

The power has been an issue for even longer. Bryant just recently went a month without a homer before sending one into the bleachers Friday night at Busch Stadium.

Still, since May 15, he has only 8 extra-base hits (7 doubles and that 1 homer) in 27 games.

The struggle is real right now, but that hasn't stopped the Cubs from going 17-11 during Bryant's dip in power.

GM Jed Hoyer reiterated again that Bryant is the last guy the Cubs worry about in the big picture.

"The way he runs the bases, the way he plays defense, I feel like he's contributing to wins even when he might be struggling at the plate a little bit," Hoyer said Monday evening. "With guys like him, I always look at it and think to myself — that means a hot streak is right around the corner.

"I said that about Anthony [Rizzo] in April when he was struggling and he's been great since May 1. I think Kris will have the same kind of turnaraound. With him, it's just a matter of when he breaks out.

"Over the course of the season, every great player goes through one or two big slumps. We're in a strange sport where even the greatest players are not slump-proof. He'll get out of it and we'll all reap the benefits when he does."

Even with the struggles, Bryant ranks 23rd among position players in WAR (Fangraphs) with 2.3, pacing the Cubs in that category. That still puts him on pace for a roughly 6-WAR pace, which would be his lowest throughout his MLB career but is still very clearly elite.

In an effort to get him back to the "KB" we've seen so much over the last four years, Joe Maddon has twice resorted to bumping him to the top of the lineup, including Monday night's game against the Dodgers.

Maddon is hoping a move to the leadoff spot will reinstill in Bryant's head that he doesn't need to be a power hitter to help the team win.

For right now, it works. After all, Bryant is still tied for 9th in baseball in OBP (.389). 

"You really do start trying too hard," Maddon said. "You try to force things as opposed to letting them come to you. Especially a power guy that's not hit home runs in a bit. My take on power guys is that it normally is cyclical. They'll get it for a while, then they'll get away with it, then it comes back."

Like Hoyer, Maddon talked up Bryant's abilities as a "winning player" in every other area of the game even when he's not going yard. That includes his daily hustle and effort.

"When a guy like him goes through this moment, I want him to focus on that — not homers," Maddon said. "He probably hears that way too much about the power situation and I'm really not interested in that. 

"Put him back in the leadoff spot for the reasons I just said — he can help win a game in so many different ways and I want him to just focus on that. ... He needs our support; he's gonna get it. I just put him in that top spot to readjust how he's thinking and that's all."

Who Knew? Baseball oddities from Daniel Palka, Anthony Rizzo and more in Chicago baseball

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Who Knew? Baseball oddities from Daniel Palka, Anthony Rizzo and more in Chicago baseball

After a two-week hiatus, “Who Knew?” is Back!  Time for our (usually) weekly journey through the improbable, inane & obscure of Chicago Baseball.

All notes are through Sunday’s games.

Extra Innings… Extra Runs

Last Monday the Cubs beat the Brewers 7-2… in 11 innings.

They have three wins this season in extra innings.  By 4, 5 and 6 runs!  Their four extra-inning losses this season are by 1, 1, 1 and 2 runs.

No other team has won an extra-inning game by at least 5 runs this season.  The Cubs have done it twice.

Inning Checklist

Anthony Rizzo homered in the 11th inning in that Monday Cubs win.  He has now homered in every inning from 1 to 13 in his career, joining Ron Santo & Sammy Sosa as the only players in Cubs history who can make that distinction.

One-Two Punch

Tuesday night, Yoán Moncada & Yolmer Sánchez led off the game with back-to-back home runs.

It was the fourth time in franchise history the Sox led a game off with consecutive homers.

Sánchez hit the second home run each of the last two times they did it (also September 2, 2017 after Alen Hanson)

It was the FIRST time in Major League history two players whose first name begins with the letter Y had hit consecutive home runs to begin a game.

What’s the Catch?

439 players have had at least 30 at-bats this season.

The best batting average of those players belongs to Kevan Smith (.441 but in only 34 at-bats)

In the Park

The most batters faced without allowing a home run this season is 149, by Dylan Covey. He allowed 20 Home Runs in 70.0 Innings in 2017.

Through the Draft

Friday night:

Javier Báez Cubs’ 1st round pick in 2011 (9th overall)  reached base 3 times (including two walks!)
Albert Almora Jr. Cubs’ 1st round pick in 2012 (6th overall)  reached base 3 times
Kris Bryant Cubs’ 1st round pick in 2013 (2nd overall) homered
Kyle Schwarber Cubs’ 1st round pick in 2014 (4th overall)    homered
Ian Happ Cubs’ 1st round pick in 2015 (9th overall)   homered

Double Time

José Abreu has 21 doubles since May 8th.

You could chop off Abreu’s first 31 games this season and those 21 doubles alone would be enough to tie Ozzie Albies & Nick Markakis for the FULL season National League lead this season

Palka Party

Daniel Palka’s 7 batted balls of at least 115 mph is the 4th highest total in MLB (according to the available data at baseballsavant.com).

But look at how many more plate appearances this season the other guys have had!

  Batted balls of 115+mph  PA
Giancarlo Stanton    10 294
Joey Gallo   9 286
Aaron Judge     8 300
Daniel Palka     7 154

                                                

By the way, the rest of the White Sox team has a combined 3 batted balls of 115+ MPH this season.  Palka is clearly a special talent.

Cubs still owning second place in the NL All-Star vote standings

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Cubs still owning second place in the NL All-Star vote standings

One Cubs player is within shouting distance of starting at the 2018 MLB All-Star game. But this time around, as compared to last week, the vote deficit is a bit larger.

MLB updated its second round of All-Star ballots for the National League. Catcher Willson Contreras trails Giants catcher Buster Posey by 90,000 votes. The margin was only 22,000 votes at this time last week.

And for other Cubs players such as Anthony Rizzo, Kris Bryant, Javier Baez and others, the margin is a little more substantial.

Rizzo is behind Braves first basemen Freddie Freeman by nearly 870,000 votes. Baez trails Braves second basemen Ozzie Albies by 148,000 votes.

Bryant trails Rockies third basemen Nolan Arenado by 447,000 votes. At shortstop, Addison Russell is in third place, trailing the Dansby Swanson of the Braves and Giants shortstop Brandon Crawford.

In the outfield, Jason Heyward moved up to the seventh spot with 447,359 votes, dropping Kyle Schwarber to eighth with 442,471 votes, and Ben Zobrist ranks ninth with 434,943 votes.

There will be another All-Star ballot update for the NL next Monday, and voting ends on July 5 at 11 p.m. Central.