Cubs

Cubs: Theo Epstein believes Kris Bryant can follow in Dustin Pedroia's MVP footsteps

Cubs: Theo Epstein believes Kris Bryant can follow in Dustin Pedroia's MVP footsteps

Joe Maddon has been trying to find a chance to give Kris Bryant a day off.

But how do you sit the hottest hitter on the planet?

Bryant just finished a torrid road trip in which he staked his claim to the National League MVP Award by hitting .417 with a 1.365 OPS, five homers, 11 RBIs and 11 runs in nine games. 

That pushed his season line to .305/.398/.588 (.986 OPS) with a league-leading 35 homers and 107 runs plus 89 RBIs.

So is he the Most Valuable Player in just his second season in "The Show"?

"I don't want to get too wrapped up in individual awards," Cubs president of baseball operations Theo Epstein said. "He's an outstanding player having a great year. It's never too early.

"(Red Sox second baseman) Dustin Pedroia is another guy we drafted over a decade ago and he did the same thing — Rookie of the Year in the first year and then MVP the next year. It can be done.

"(Bryant is) helping us win in so many different ways. Obviously coming up big of late, which is great to see. He deserves all the accolades that are coming his way and that may eventually come his way.

"But I think he'd probably be the first one to tell you he wants the team awards; he wants the team recognition in the end. The only one that really counts is winning your last game and the parade. Everything else is nice to fill the trophy case, but that's what everyone here is all about."

Bryant will undoubtedly split some MVP votes with teammate Anthony Rizzo (.946 OPS, 25 home runs, 89 RBIs), but the Cubs third baseman/outfielder woke up Monday morning leading all of baseball in WAR on FanGraphs' page.

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

Even the Cubs admit Bryant has progressed beyond their realistic expectations.

"I would never have held him to this standard," Epstein said. "I wouldn't say, 'This is his development path. He's gotta go be maybe the Most Valuable Player in the league in the second year.' But at the same time, it doesn't surprise me.

"He's always been outstanding at making adjustments. Very cerebral player. Makes great use of his down time, whether it's the winter where he can work on swing adjustments or even the time between at-bats or pitch-to-pitch. He's just really, really good at making adjustments and thinks about his own game at a really high level.

"He's such a good athlete, he's able to take it right out on the field."

Bryant has also surprised Epstein and the Cubs with how he's evolved as a player.

"In some ways, surprising," Epstein said. "I thought he would always hit five to 10 opposite field home runs a year at a minimum, and he hasn't this year — that was his first one of the year the other day at Dodger Stadium.

"But he's added the ability to turn on the inside pitch and hit it in the air and keep it fair, so he's hitting more home runs as a result. So I never saw that coming.

"It's interesting the way his swing and his game have evolved."

In discussing the difference between 2016 Bryant and the rookie model, Maddon pointed to a decrease in strikeouts (from 30.6 percent in 2015 to 22 percent) and a smoother product on defense.

"The biggest for me is consistently shorter swing. More contact," Maddon said. "He's had smaller windows of chasing pitches out of the strike zone compared to last year when he did it more often.

"But recently, he's been using the outfield gap, which is really impressive. So offensively, that's what I'm seeing. Defensively, better feet on the infield.

"You'd see a lot of the patting of the glove as the feet were moving. I see it on occasion now, but not to the extent I saw it last year. He's still a great baserunner.

"So primarily — shorter hack, greater contact, less chase, right central is coming back into play right now and better feet on defense. That's what I'm seeing."

Put it all together and you have an MVP frontrunner entering September.

Cubs Talk Podcast: David Bote’s wild ride and a huge test for Cubs pitchers

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USA TODAY

Cubs Talk Podcast: David Bote’s wild ride and a huge test for Cubs pitchers

Kelly Crull and Tony Andracki break down the Cubs’ series win over the Diamondbacks at Wrigley Field, which capped off with yet another David Bote walk-off and a surprising performance from Tyler Chatwood. They also break down where this Cubs team is at as they get set to welcome the high-powered Dodgers offense into Chicago later in the week.

:30 – The Kelly Effect

1:00 – David Bote’s wild ride

2:00 – El Mago’s magic pays off for Cubs yet again

3:30 – Bote’s adjustments

6:40 – Chatwood’s big day

8:50 – What’s next for Chatwood?

10:10 – Lester’s return is right around the corner

11:30 – Cubs pitching firing on all cylinders

12:00 – Did Kap jinx Strop?

13:30 – Dodgers pose a big challenge for Cubs pitching staff

Listen to the full episode in the embedded player below:

Add another chapter to David Bote's incredible story

Add another chapter to David Bote's incredible story

David Bote had to be feeling like the luckiest guy on Earth.

The Cubs were humming along in their quickest game of the season and two outs away from a 1-0 victory on a picture-perfect Easter Sunday at Wrigley Field. That was good news for him, because he had a flight to catch — doctors were inducing his wife, Rachel, and she was going to be giving birth to their third child that night.

Then Bote watched as Arizona's light-hitting outfielder Jarrod Dyson — he of 16 homers in 744 career games coming into the afternoon — sent a Pedro Strop pitch into the right-field bleachers in the top of the ninth inning to extend the game.

So Bote took things into his own hands.

Javy Baez led off the Cubs' half of the ninth with a double down the right field line, advanced to third on an error and then Willson Contreras was plunked by Diamondbacks reliever Archie Bradley.

Up stepped Bote, who watched a curve for Ball 1 and then narrowly got out of the way of a 95 mph fastball ticketed for his left temple. Bradley came back with a curve for a strike and Bote knew what to look for, waiting on another curveball and hammering it through the drawn-in infield for the Cubs' 10th win of the season. 

Minutes later, Bote had bolted out of Wrigley Field, heading back home to Colorado for the birth of Baby No. 3.

Speaking of which, Bote's walk-off hit Sunday came exactly 36 weeks (a little over eight months) after his ultimate grand slam to beat the Washington Nationals...

"It's a grand slam baby and now it's another walk-off for him," teammate Anthony Rizzo joked.

This is just the latest chapter in the incredible story of Bote, an 18th-round draft pick who endured seven seasons in the minor leagues before being called up to the majors. He doesn't even have a full year of service time in "The Show" yet, but he's already proven he belongs and carved out a permanent spot on the roster before signing a 5-year, $15 million extension earlier this month.

"From the homer last year, there was a lot of pressure and he slowed everything down," Baez said. "He just keeps getting better and he knows he's got talent and he can do it. He's got a lot of confidence coming off the bench and he's been huge for this team."

This was Bote's 42nd career RBI and it was already his 4th walk-off RBI. That means nearly 10 percent of his career RBI have come via walk-off situation.

"It's nice. He's had experience early [in those situations]," Rizzo said. "You can't teach that. He's had a lot of situations like that and he's come through. It's fun to watch."

This was only the 10th start of the season for Bote in the Cubs' 20th game, but he's found a way to stay sharp. 

After his 2-hit game Sunday, he's now slashing .295/.380/.455 on the season and showing off the adjustments he's made after hitting just .176 with a .559 OPS after that ultimate grand slam last year.

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