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.”

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.