ST. LOUIS — The Cubs built their team around power hitters at a time when the game is tilting toward power pitching.
Kris Bryant — a 6-foot-5 slugger, the second overall pick in the 2013 draft and Baseball America’s No. 1 prospect heading into this season — became a huge part of that against-the-grain philosophy.
Despite generating only 20 home runs through 24 games — with no three-run shots or grand slams — the Cubs still woke up on Cinco de Mayo with a decent chance of making the playoffs. Baseball Prospectus set the odds at 52.9 percent, while FanGraphs crunched the numbers and came up with 47.2 percent.
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The Cubs believe Bryant — who still hasn’t homered in his first 17 games in The Show — will fuel that power surge this summer.
“There’s more to the game than just hitting home runs,” Bryant said. “Especially nowadays, a lot is being said about getting on base and on-base percentage. I just try to be the complete player and help the team win in any way possible. If I’m on base, then I’m giving my team a chance.”
Bryant showed that again during Tuesday’s 7-4 loss to the St. Louis Cardinals at Busch Stadium. He produced an RBI single in the fifth inning and then hustled to score from second base when the Cardinals couldn’t complete a double play. He also struck out twice and committed a fielding error at third base.
The night before, the Cardinals walked Bryant four times, a sign of respect for someone who blasted 43 homers in the minors last season. He’s hitting .283 with 16 walks, 12 RBI and an .808 OPS since his much-publicized promotion from Triple-A Iowa.
“For a young player, having your reputation precede you is incredible,” manager Joe Maddon said. “With the way data is collected and videos are processed and put out there, that information probably would have taken at least three weeks to a month a couple years ago to get all that stuff out there. But it’s out there like immediately, so everybody’s been playing the same game.”
It will be like this for all the young hitters the Cubs are trying to incorporate at once. President of baseball operations Theo Epstein watched his team strike out 37 times in the last series against the Milwaukee Brewers.
“Joe said it well: They’re not all going to be oil paintings,” Epstein said. “I think we had a couple moments this weekend that were Pollocks.”
Jackson Pollock could probably put together an interesting heat map.
“It’s part of the growth process,” Epstein said. “There are going to be these reminders of how raw we are in certain aspects. And then the league will adjust to young players and then young players have to adjust back.
“They’re still figuring out who they are as players and still getting their foundation underneath them as big-league players. Yet they have to adjust to very targeted attacks from the other team. That’s what makes it fun. We’re young and talented and embracing the struggle.”
That’s not to say Bryant is actually struggling.
“If he keeps on-basing .450, I’ll be pretty happy,” general manager Jed Hoyer. “He’s done an unbelievable job of staying patient (and) it shows a lot of maturity. I think most 23-year-olds would be frustrated, swinging to try to get that monkey off their back. He hasn’t done that. I’m not worried at all. He’s too big and too strong and too good of a hitter to not hit a lot of homers.”