Like Cubs, Bryce Harper would've stuck Kris Bryant in minors


Like Cubs, Bryce Harper would've stuck Kris Bryant in minors

Bryce Harper joined the Free Kris Bryant movement on Twitter, calling it a “joke” if the game’s top prospect didn’t make the Cubs out of spring training.

But the Washington Nationals superstar is also a businessman, someone who left high school early to get his GED and play at a junior college, allowing him to be the No. 1 overall pick in the 2010 draft. By the age of 17, Harper had already found a way around the system, speeding up his arbitration/free-agency clocks. 

Harper also grew up in Las Vegas, playing with and against Bryant over the years. The two prodigies aren’t particularly close, but they both are represented by Scott Boras, the industry’s most powerful — and quotable — agent.

[MORE CUBS: Cubs vs. Nats: The friendly rivalry between Kris Bryant and Bryce Harper]

Harper gets why the Cubs held Bryant down at Triple-A Iowa for almost two weeks, making sure the 6-foot-5 slugger stays under their control through the 2021 season.

“He’s a great player,” Harper said before the Nationals hung on for a 2-1 victory on Monday afternoon at Wrigley Field. “I think he needed to be in the big leagues. But I understand the business side of it and what goes on (there). If I was the Cubs, I would have done the same thing. I want him for another year, too.

“That’s how it is. There’s nothing you can do. But should he have been in the big leagues? Yeah, I think so.”

Yeah, Bryant probably didn’t need those extra 28 at-bats with Iowa in early April to prove he belongs in The Show. Seven games probably wasn’t enough time to get into a defensive rhythm at third base. But almost seven full seasons of Bryant will always be greater than six.

[RELATED: Cubs-Nationals: Bryce Harper takes aim at Wrigley Field]

“When we were younger, we used to call him ‘Silk,’ because he was so smooth with everything he did,” Harper said. “He played third. He played short. He played a little outfield. He pitched, and he always hit very well. He’s a great talent. I’m excited for him. I always cheer for guys that are from my area.”

Bryant struck first by lining Tanner Roark’s 94 mph fastball over the basket in left-center, and it bounced back onto the field in the first inning for his sixth home run.

Bryant also hustled for an infield single in the third inning, again showing that he’s not just a one-dimensional power hitter. Bryant was left stranded after Washington closer Drew Storen hit his wrist leading off the ninth inning.

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

“If you can beat the best, then I guess you can put yourself in that conversation as the best,” said Bryant, who has 30 RBI through 36 games and an .873 OPS. “Just as an individual, I think I rise up to my opponent. As baseball players, that’s instilled in us, and I know every one of us in here plays that way, too. So, yeah, we’re loving this series right now.”

The Cubs (24-20) are still a few years behind the Nationals (27-18) in their rebuild, but they view this as a litmus test. It will be fun to watch Harper and Bryant go back and forth, and interesting to see if “Baseball’s Chosen One” (Sports Illustrated’s words) has a little more edge in his voice when this rivalry really heats up. 

“The Cubs got a lot of great talent, young talent,” Harper said. “To add a guy like Jon Lester, a guy who’s proven and done things in the postseason, to get a guy (like Joe) Maddon as a manager who loves young talent, loves his players, (you) can’t talk enough about the good (things in) the organization.”

Feeding off their defense, Cubs starting to feel those 2016 vibes

Feeding off their defense, Cubs starting to feel those 2016 vibes

A year ago, the Cubs were struggling to float above .500, sitting 1.5 games behind the first-place Brewers.

Two years ago, the Cubs were10.5 games up on the second-place Cardinals in the division and already in cruise control to the postseason.

As they entered a weekend series in Cincinnati at 42-29 and in a tie for first place, the Cubs are feeling quite a bit more like 2016 than 2017.

The major reason? Energy, as Joe Maddon pointed out over the weekend.

That energy shows up most often on defense.

The 2016 Cubs put up maybe the best defensive season in baseball history while last year they truly looked hungover.

After a big of a slow start to 2018, the Cubs are feelin' more of that '16 swag.

If you watched either of the wins against the Los Angeles Dodgers this week at Wrigley Field, it's clear to see why: the defense.

"I like the defense," Maddon said of his team last week. "I'm into the defense. There's a tightness about the group. There's a closeness about the group. Not saying last year wasn't like that, but this group is definitely trending more in the '16 direction regarding interacting.

"If anything — and the one thing that makes me extremely pleased — would be the continuation of the defense. We've fed so much off our defense in '16. We've been doing that more recently again. We do so much good out there, then we come in and it gets kinda electric in the dugout. I'd like to see that trend continue on defense."

The Cubs scored only 2 runs in 10 innings in the second game against the Dodgers Tuesday night and managed just 4 runs in the finale Wednesday. Yet their gloves helped hold the Dodgers to only 1 run combined between the two games.

Wednesday's game was a defensive clinic, with Jason Heyward throwing out Chris Taylor at home plate with an incredible tag by Willson Contreras while Javy Baez, Albert Almora Jr., Kris Bryant and Kyle Schwarber all hit the ground to make sprawling/diving plays.

"[Almora] comes in and dives for one and I'm just like, 'OK, I'm done clapping for you guys,'" Jon Lester, Wednesday's winning pitcher, joked. "It's expected now that these guys make these plays. It's fun on our end. It's the, 'Here, hit it. Our guys are really good out there and they're gonna run it down.'"

The Heyward throw, in particular, jacked the team up. 

Maddon compared it to a grand slam with how much energy it provided the Cubs. Almora said he momentarily lost his voice because he was screaming so much at the play.

There was also Baez making plays in the hole at shortstop, then switching over to second base and turning a ridiculous unassisted double play on a liner in the 8th inning.

"That's what we're capable of doing," Maddon said. "In the past, when we've won on a high level, we've played outstanding defense. It never gets old to watch that kind of baseball."

The Cubs are back to forcing opposing hitters to jog off the field, shaking their head in frustration and disbelief.

"It could be so dispiriting to the other side when you make plays like that," Maddon said. "And also it's buoyant to your pitchers. So there's all kinds of good stuff goin' on there."

A lot of that is the play of the outfield, with Almora back to himself after a down 2017 season and Schwarber turning into a plus-rated defensive outfield.

After finishing 19th in baseball in outfield assists last season, the Cubs are currently tied for 6th with 14 outfield assists this year.

Schwarber has 7 alone, which is already as many as he tallied in the entire 2017 season.

"I feel like they'll learn quickly on Schwarber, if they haven't yet," Heyward said. "You gotta earn that respect. You gotta earn that sense of caution from the third base coach.

"But please keep running on me in those situations. I want it to happen."

Brandon Morrow has a healthy sense of humor about his pants-related injury

Brandon Morrow has a healthy sense of humor about his pants-related injury

Brandon Morrow's body may not be healthy, but his sense of humor sure isn't on the disabled list.

The Cubs closer had to go on the DL Wednesday after he injured his back changing out of his pants early Monday morning when the Cubs returned home to Chicago after a Sunday night game in St. Louis.

The story made national rounds, not only in the baseball world, but resonating with non-sports fans, as well. After all, it's not every day a guy who gets paid millions for his athletic endeavors injures himself on a mundane every day activity.

But it's all good, because even Morrow can find the humor in the situation, Tweeting this out Thursday afternoon:

Morrow's back tightened up on him and didn't loosen up enough the next two days, making him unavailable for the Cubs doubleheader Tuesday at Wrigley Field.

The team decided to put him on the shelf Wednesday morning so an already-gassed bullpen wouldn't have more pressure during this stretch of 14 games in 13 days.

The Cubs are in Cincinnati this weekend for a four-game series with the Reds. Morrow is eligible to return from the DL next Wednesday in Los Angeles as the Cubs once again take on the Dodgers — Morrow's old team.

The 33-year-old pitcher is 16-for-17 in save chances this year while posting a 1.59 ERA, 1.15 WHIP and 25 strikeouts in 22.2 innings. He's only given up a run in 2 of his 26 outings as a Cub.