Cubs

'Bash Brothers' 2.0: Kris Bryant, Anthony Rizzo will drive Cubs

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'Bash Brothers' 2.0: Kris Bryant, Anthony Rizzo will drive Cubs

Cubs fans can dream about Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo hitting back-to-back homers for the next six-plus years.

Theo Epstein’s front office has Bryant and Rizzo under control through the 2021 season. That covers Bryant’s age-23 through age-29 seasons. Rizzo won’t turn 30 until a few weeks after the 2019 All-Star Game. The rest of the National League will have to get used to this.

“(Rizzo) jokes around, like: This is ‘The Bash Brothers,’” Bryant said before Tuesday’s 6-1 win over the New York Mets at Wrigley Field. “We have fun with it. He’s just a good guy for me to learn from and watch how he goes about his business. I’m definitely having a whole lot of fun with him so far.”

Bryant and Rizzo won’t have the same attitude as Jose Canseco and Mark McGwire from those steroid-fueled Oakland A’s teams in the late 1980s and early 1990s. They’re way too polite, not edgy enough, more like family-friendly Disney characters. It even sounded like Rizzo — who was born in 1989 — actually might have been making a reference to “The Mighty Ducks.”

[MORE CUBS: Buzz is back for Cubs-Mets as Jake Arrieta upstages Noah Syndergaard]

Bryant almost hit for the cycle against the Mets, with the 6-foot-5 slugger hustling for an infield single, showing off his speed with a triple and crushing a ball that left fans in the left-field bleachers scrambling for the souvenir.

Bryant certainly isn’t one-dimensional. His long strides beat the throw from Mets third baseman Daniel Murphy with two outs in the third inning. The Cubs didn’t score during that sequence, but it forced 22-year-old flamethrower Noah Syndergaard to throw 18 extra pitches during his major-league debut.

“Any groundball I hit, I’m going to run as hard as I can,” Bryant said. “That’s something I can control. I believe that if you play the game the right way, it treats you the right way back. That’s how I approach the game. That’s how I always play.”

[MORE CUBS: Cubs need Jon Lester, the perfectionist, operating at full strength]

The Cubs are definitely feeling The Bryant Effect.

“He’s a baseball player, man,” manager Joe Maddon said “That’s the thing right there. That’s what you want. You want baseball players, a guy that plays the whole game, understands the concepts of offense and defense.

“The home runs are beautiful. Whatever. But how about the pick at third base? That was a great play. You’re talking about (how) that’s the second time he’s beat out a routine groundball in a week.

“He’s hit balls very far. But it’s a baseball player. Everybody’s always just talking about this guy as though he’s just a power hitter. Whatever. He’s a baseball player and a really good one.”

[SHOP CUBS: Get a Kris Bryant jersey right here]

Bryant is heating up after not hitting a home run in his first 91 major-league plate appearances, homering in three of his last four games.

“They’re still trying to get the book on him,” Rizzo said, “how you can get him out, where he’s hot, where he’s cold. I just keep telling him: Keep taking those walks.

“If you keep going up there having quality at-bats, like he’s doing, good things are going to come out of it.”

All this the night after Bryant and Rizzo hit back-to-back homers into the bleachers off Jacob deGrom, the 2014 NL Rookie of the Year, which set the tone in the first inning of a 4-3 victory over the first-place Mets.

At a time when offense is down throughout the game, the Cubs have hoarded power hitters. Bryant led minor-league baseball with 43 homers last year. Rizzo doesn’t look satisfied with one All-Star selection, putting up a 1.055 OPS so far this season. Maybe this could be Bash Brothers 2.0.

Cubs Talk Podcast: Manny Machado’s value and other Cubs offseason wish list items

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USA TODAY

Cubs Talk Podcast: Manny Machado’s value and other Cubs offseason wish list items

Did Manny Machado’s value take a hit at all after he openly admitted hustling isn’t his “cup of tea”? Our Cubs team (David Kaplan, Kelly Crull, Tony Andracki, Jeff Nelson) debate that, plus the potential fit of Machado or Bryce Harper for the 2019 Cubs and beyond.

The crew also runs down the top items on the Cubs’ offseason wish list – ranging from bullpen help to infield depth to a set leadoff hitter – in what may be the most impactful winter in Theo Epstein’s tenure in Chicago.

Listen to the podcast here or via the embedded player below:

The most underrated storyline of the Cubs offseason

The most underrated storyline of the Cubs offseason

There are plenty of intriguing Cubs storylines to monitor this offseason from their potential pursuit of the big free agents to any other changes that may come to the coaching staff or roster after a disappointing finish to the 2018 campaign.

But there's one question simmering under the radar in Cubs circles when it comes to this winter: How will the team solve the shortstop conundrum?

Just a few years ago, the Cubs had "too many" shortstops. Now, there are several different factors at play here that makes it a convoluted mess.

First: What will the Cubs do with Addison Russell? The embattled shortstop is in the midst of a suspension for domestic violence that will keep him off an MLB diamond for at least the first month of 2019.

Has Russell already played his last game with the Cubs? Will they trade him or send him packing in any other fashion this winter?

Theo Epstein mentioned several times he felt the organization needs to show support to the victim in the matter (Russell's ex-wife, Melisa) but also support for Russell. Does that mean they would keep him a part of the team at least through the early part of 2019?

Either way, Russell's days in Chicago are numbered and his play on the field took another big step back in 2018 as he fought through a hand injury and experienced a major dip in power. With his performance on the field and the off-field issues, it will be hard to justify a contract worth somewhere in the neighborhood of $4 million in his second year of arbitration (prorated, with a month's worth of pay taken out for the suspension).

Even if Russell is on the roster in 2019, Javy Baez is unquestionably the shortstop for at least the first month while Russell is on suspension. 

But what about beyond Baez if the Cubs want to give him a breather or disaster strikes and he's forced to miss time with an injury?

At the moment, there's nothing but question marks on the current Cubs shortstop depth chart throughout the entire organization and they're certainly going to need other options at the most important defensive position (outside of pitcher/catcher). 

There's David Bote, who subbed in for Baez at short once in September when Baez needed a break and Russell was on the disabled list. But while Bote's defense at third base and second base has opened eyes around the Cubs, he has only played 45 games at short across seven minor-league seasons, including 15 games in 2018. There's also the offensive question marks with the rookie, who hit just .176 with a .559 OPS and 40 strikeouts in 108 at-bats after that epic ultimate grand slam on Aug. 12.

The Cubs' other current shortstop options include Mike Freeman (a 31-year-old career minor-leaguer), Ben Zobrist (who will be 38 in 2019 and has played all of 13 innings at shortstop since 2014), Ryan Court (a 30-year-old career minor leaguer) and Chesny Young (a 26-year-old minor-leaguer who has posted a .616 OPS in 201 Triple-A games).

Maybe Joe Maddon would actually deploy Kris Bryant at shortstop in case of emergency like a Baez injury ("necessity is the mother of invention," as Maddon loves to say), but that seems a lot more like a fun talking point than a legit option at this current juncture.

So even if Russell sticks around, there's no way the Cubs can go into the first month of the season with just Baez and Bote as the only shortstop options on a team that with World Series or bust expectations.

The Cubs will need to acquire some shortstop depth this winter in some capacity, whether it's adding to the Triple-A Iowa roster or getting a veteran who can also back up other positions. Right now, the free agent pool of potential shortstops is pretty slim beyond Manny Machado.

Epstein always says he and his front office look to try to mitigate risk and analyze where things could go wrong to sink the Cubs' season and through that lense, shortstop is suddenly right up there behind adding more bullpen help this winter.