Cubs

Cubs fall to Padres as Kris Bryant goes 0-for-4 in debut

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Cubs fall to Padres as Kris Bryant goes 0-for-4 in debut

Even an 0-for-4 afternoon with a trio of strikeouts isn’t likely to dampen Cubs fans’ excitement over the newly arrived Kris Bryant.

And it didn't dampen Bryant's enthusiasm, either.

Bryant had a rough time at the plate in his first day in the big leagues, striking out three times and stranding five runners in the Cubs’ 5-4 loss to the visiting San Diego Padres on Friday at Wrigley Field.

But the No. 1 prospect in baseball has the right attitude, still all smiles while talking after the game, talking about what a glorious day it was to be a big leaguer even if there were no results at the plate.

“It was fun. Sure, I could’ve done a little better," Bryant said. "There’s two sides to the ball. I thought I did well on defense, didn’t come around hitting. But I helped my team out as much as I could. But I just absorbed everything. It was just a fun moment, all the smells and the sounds and playing in front of 30,000 people. I think that’s the biggest crowd I’ve played in front of. And they’re all cheering for you. It was just a really cool moment for me.”

[MORE CUBS: The wait is over: Kris Bryant arrives at Wrigley Field]

As he alluded to, Bryant’s defense was great, nearly making up for his offensive struggles. He had a busy day at the hot corner, but he made nearly every play that came his way, including starting a pair of double plays and making a highlight-reel diving snag on a rocket off the bat of Derek Norris.

And though the spotlight was squarely on him Friday, Bryant wasn’t the one who surrendered a go-ahead three-run homer to Wil Myers in the top of the seventh, the hit that turned the game around and earned Joe Maddon his first ejection as Cubs manager.

Thanks to a pair of two-run innings, the Cubs had a 4-2 lead in the seventh. But the Padres responded, tagging Jason Hammel for back-to-back singles and chasing the Cubs starter. After Zac Rosscup retired the only hitter he faced, Brian Schlitter surrendered a three-run home run to Myers, which flipped the game around and gave San Diego a 5-4 advantage.

The homer followed a pitch that many in attendance believed should have been the third strike of the at-bat, which was called a ball. Maddon apparently agreed with the assessment of the booing fans, as he walked out to the mound, started arguing with the home-plate umpire and earned the first ejection of his Cubs managerial tenure.

“That was intentional, absolutely," Maddon said of his ejection. "We still have to execute better in the moment, but I can’t permit that to happen without saying something. I really believe even prior to the (fourth-inning) home run by (Will) Middlebrooks that was a strike, also. I let that one slide, and I just couldn’t let it slide twice. However, even though we probably should’ve gotten a call there, we still have to make a better pitch on the next pitch, that’s part of this game. You’re not always going to get the calls that you’re looking for.”

[MORE CUBS: Cubs, Kris Bryant say there’s no bad blood after service-time issue]

But years from now, if Bryant becomes the type of big league star the Cubs and their fans envision, the seventh-inning homer and the fact that the Cubs lost the game will be nothing more than the answer to a trivia question.

Bryant earned a standing ovation when he strolled to the plate for the first time, something that wowed the 23-year-old kid from Las Vegas but was hardly unexpected by his manager.

“It was more than I could have ever imagined," Bryant said. "For them to believe in me that much is pretty cool, it gives me that extra boost of confidence stepping into the box. At the same time, I feel like I was trying to do a little bit too much just because I was hearing that stuff. I’m usually pretty good at blocking that out. I think as time goes by, I’ll get better at it. But it was pretty special to hear that today.”

“The Cub fans understand what’s going on here," Maddon said. "This is a young man that’s done extremely well in the minor leagues getting to this point in his career. Our fans are very savvy, and they recognize that. I thought it was great.”

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

Bryant's three strikeouts and bounce out to third base will earn plenty of attention and likely some sarcastic "sky-is-falling" remarks on social media.

But like the front office that drafted him, Bryant is playing the long game. Friday was Day 1 of what's expected to be a long major league career. Heck, it's only game No. 9 of an 162-game campaign.

“Obviously it’s frustrating when you’ve got guys in scoring position and you don’t get the job done. But I’ve been in that position a lot. I’ve had some good moments and plenty of bad moments," Bryant said. "I think you’re going to get more bad moments in this game, and it’s all about keeping that level head and realizing that this game’s hard and it doesn’t always come to you right in the first three at-bats. But if you have the right attitude and go about your business the right way, I think it usually comes around. So no reason to hang my head.”

“Believe me," Maddon said, "he’s going to be fine, and he’s going to be very productive here. That’s just one game.”

SportsTalk Live Podcast: Do the Cubs need to make a deal?

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USA TODAY

SportsTalk Live Podcast: Do the Cubs need to make a deal?

On this episode of SportsTalk Live, Fred Mitchell, Seth Gruen and Jason Goch join David Kaplan on the panel.

The Cubs bats come alive against the Giants while Theo says there have been plenty of trade rumors but no trade talks. Do the Cubs need to make a deal?

Plus, Ray Ratto joins Kap to talk about the Warriors struggles and the guys debate if LeBron is playing his final game in a Cavaliers uniform.

Listen to the full episode at this link or in the embedded player below:

The Cubs are ahead of the game in MLB's brand new world

The Cubs are ahead of the game in MLB's brand new world

"BINGO!"

Joe Maddon couldn't contain his glee as he was told there is actual scientific evidence that proves the Launch Angle Revolution has not had any impact on the uptick in homers over the last couple seasons.

The reason MLB players were hitting the ball into the bleachers more than ever before in 2017 was because of the way baseballs are made now, reducing the wind resistence and causing balls to carry more.

But all these players changing their swing path to get more lift on the ball? Not a thing for the group as a whole (h/t MLB.com):


But in analyzing Statcast™ data from the measurement tool's 2015 inception through 2017, the committee found no evidence that batter behavior, en masse, has been a contributing factor toward the homer surge. In fact, exit velocities decreased slightly from 2016 to 2017, spray angles from the time studied were stable and a small increase in launch angles was attributable primarily to, as the study refers to them, "players with lesser home run talents."

Basically, the long-ball surge was global, affecting players from all spectrums of homer-hitting ability and irrespective of their approach.

"Going into this, I thought that was going to be the magic bullet, the smoking gun," Nathan said. "But it wasn't."


Hence the "BINGO!" cry from Maddon, who has been very vocal in the fight against the Launch Angle Revolution this season.

The end result is the study will eventually lead to baseballs being returned to normal levels and a more uniform way of storing the balls moving forward. Thus, homers figure to eventually return to normal levels, too, and everybody who was caught up in the Launch Angle Revolution may be left behind.

It's the changing landscape of baseball and we've already seen the after-effects this year: April was the first month in MLB history where there were more strikeouts than basehits.

Why? Because strikeouts are a natural byproduct of the Launch Angle Revolution as players are swinging up on the ball more and sacrificing contact for power and lift.

That, coupled with an increase in velocity and higher usage of relievers, has led to more strikeouts.

It makes perfect sense — it's tougher for a player to try to catch up to 98+ mph at the top of the strike zone with an uppercut swing.

"It's one of those things that sounds good, but it doesn't help you," Maddon said of launch angle. "There's certain things that people really want to promote and talk about, but it doesn't matter. When a hitter's in the box, when you're trying to stare down 96 or a slider on the edge, the last thing you're thinking about is launch angle.

"Now when it comes to practice, you could not necessarily work on angles — your body works a certain way. Like I've said before, there's guys that might've been oppressively bad or they just had groundballs by rolling over the ball all the time So of course you may want to alter that to get that smothering kind of a swing out of him.

"But if you're trying to catch up to velocity, if you're trying to lay back and I could keep going on and on. It sounds good."

The idea of hitting the ball hard in the air has been around for decades in baseball, pretty much ever since Babe Ruth on some level. It just wasn't able to be quantified or accessed by the public as easily until Statcast came around and made it all mainstream.

The Cubs, however, have been anti-launch-angle to a degree this season. They let go of hitting coach John Mallee (who liked players to hit the ball in the air and pull it) and replaced him with Chili Davis (who teaches the full-field, line-drive approach).

The effects haven't yet yielded results in terms of consistently plating runs or having a better performance in the situational hitting column, but the contact rate is, in fact, up.

Here is the list of Cubs hitters who currently boast a career best mark in strikeout rate:

Kris Bryant
Javy Baez
Willson Contreras
Addison Russell
Jason Heyward
Kyle Schwarber

Even Ben Zobrist is very close to his career mark and Anthony Rizzo is right at his career line.

Some of that jump in contact rate can be attributed to natural development and maturation of young hitters, but the Cubs are buying into the new way of doing things and it's paying off.

It's also probably the way the game is going to shift, with an emphasis on contact going to become more important the less balls are flying out of the yard.

The Cubs have seen firsthand how to beat the best pitching in the postseason and they know that cutting down on strikeouts and "moving the baseball" (as Maddon likes to put it) can help manufacture runs in low-scoring, tight affairs in October.

Now science is supporting those theories and Major League Baseball teams will have to adjust. 

The Cubs, however, are at least a step ahead of the game.

It's a long game — the offensive strides will take time to fully take effect even for the Cubs, who are at least a full offseason and two months ahead of the curve in terms of bucking the Launch Angle Revolution.

Maddon concedes that launch angle is a cool stat to see on the video board after homers, but other than that, he doesn't see much of a use for it, pointing to Kyle Schwarber's laser-line-drive homers having the same effect as Kris Bryant's moonshots.

However, Maddon does believe there's a place for launch angle and exit velocity in the game, though mostly for front offices trying to acquire players (think "Moneyball").

"As a teaching tool, you either come equipped with or without," Maddon said. "It's like you buy a new car, you either got this or you don't. Sometimes you can add some things occasionally, but for the most part, this is what you are.

"I like inside the ball, top half of the ball, inner half of the ball, stay long throughout the ball, utilize the whole field. I still think that's the tried and true approach and I'm not stuck in the mud on this by any means.

"The harder pitchers throw the baseball, the more laying back is going to be less effective."