Cubs

How Kris Bryant topped his MVP season with Cubs

How Kris Bryant topped his MVP season with Cubs

Kris Bryant won the National League MVP Award in his sophomore campaign, then promptly went out and got better in his third big-league season.

Bryant's career is off to one of the greatest starts in baseball history and is already one of the best players in Cubs franchise history.

And he won't turn 26 until January.

Bryant posted a .946 OPS in 2017, seven points higher than his MVP-winning 2016 OPS (.939). He didn't hit 30 homers or drive in 100 runs (in fact, he only drove in 73), but he improved in almost every other offensive category.

Bryant set new career highs in average (.295), on-base percentage (.409), walks (95) and doubles (38) while lowering his strikeout percentage for the third straight year.

He scored 111 runs, good for the fifth-highest total in the NL and eighth-highest in MLB. He led all third basemen in runs and walks while finishing third in OPS, just behind Colorado's Nolan Arenado (.959) and Cleveland's Jose Ramirez (.957).

Bryant is also the 12th Cubs player to score 100 runs in multiple seasons, becoming the first to do so since Sammy Sosa from 1998-2002.

Only Giancarlo Stanton (7.0) and Anthony Rendon (6.9) have a higher WAR (FanGraphs) in the National League and Bryant (6.8) is fifth in all of baseball, with Aaron Judge (8.2) and Jose Altuve (7.5) leading the game.

"Everybody's been critical of KB, but he quietly is one of the top WAR-mongers in the league right now," Joe Maddon said. "Everybody's like, 'What's wrong with KB?' Nothing!

"Everybody looks at the fact that his RBI total isn't what it could've been, but everything else is in play."

There are several explanations for Bryant's low RBI total. He took 74.78 percent of his at-bats in the No. 2 spot in the Cubs order, hitting behind the pitcher's spot and a revolving door of leadoff hitters who combined to get on base just 32.5 percent of the time.

Bryant also hit just .239 with runners in scoring position, but he posted a .375 on-base percentage and .462 slugging percentage in such situations, making for a darn good .837 OPS overall.

Bryant called himself a "table-setter" earlier in the season and that is exactly what he did for the Cubs offense. As the team found its groove post-All-Star Break, Bryant hit .328 with a .975 OPS in the second half while striking out only 53 times in 68 games.

He became a smarter and more consistent player in 2017, truly learning how to take it one day at a time.

"You have to look at it that way," he said. "At times, I still find myself thinking ahead to certain series and that's when I kinda lose it and things aren't going my way, because I'm thinking about something I don't need to think about.

"That's a good characteristic of a good team, I think. You just stay where you are, stay in the moment and enjoy it. Play hard, but don't really worry about the future too much."

Bryant's also been remarkably durable, becoming the first player in Cubs history to appear in 150 games in each of his first three MLB seasons. He's only the 11th player in MLB history to accomplish that feat and since 2000, only Albert Pujols, Ichiro Suzuki and Hideki Matsui have done the trick (with the latter two guys starting their professional career abroad playing in Japan).

Bryant is already tied with Dave Kingman for 25th in Cubs history with 94 career homers. He's the first player in franchise history to hit at least 25 homers in each of his first three MLB seasons.

He found himself in the MVP discussion as the season wore down, though some may devalue him based on his low traditional stats of homers and RBI in a year where baseball saw more longballs hit than ever before.

But Bryant has said in the past he models his game after Reds first baseman Joey Votto and the Cubs superstar took one step closer to that level of play in 2017.

Javy Baez should be the frontrunner for NL MVP heading into the All-Star Break

Javy Baez should be the frontrunner for NL MVP heading into the All-Star Break

If the season ended today, Javy Baez may be your National League MVP.

Of course, the season isn't ending today, only the first half of the 2018 campaign is.

He flashed his skills again over the weekend — scoring the game-winning run Friday, posting a 5-RBI game Saturday and then drove in the Cubs' first run in their 7-4 victory Sunday to close out a sweep of the Padres.

Entering the All-Star Break, Baez should be the frontrunner for Most Valuable Player.

For starters, he's the best player on the best team in the league.

Thanks to a recent hot surge by the Cubs and an ugly weekend for the Brewers (who have lost 6 straight), Baez and Co. will go into the break with the best record in the NL. 

Baez, meanwhile, leads the Cubs in WAR and nearly every offensive category — OPS, slugging percentage, homers, RBI, runs scored, doubles, triples, total bases, stolen bases and hits.

And that's not even saying anything about his glovework at any position on the infield or dynamic baserunning.

He's on pace to become the first Cubs player to drive in 125 runs since Sammy Sosa in 2001.

Baez also is on track for a 30-30 season — something only Sosa accomplished in a Cubs uniform in 1993 and 1995. 

El Mago will enjoy his week in the Home Run Derby and as the NL's starting second baseman in the All-Star Game, but those shouldn't be the end of his accolades this year if he can find a way to keep this pace up in the second half.

What other NL candidate would be a better choice for the MVP right now?

Baez is tied for the league lead in RBI. Brewers first baseman Jesus Aguilar is just behind Baez with 70 RBI, but he also has 70 fewer at-bats than the Cubs star due to a platoon to begin the year. 

Eugenio Suarez and Scooter Gennett are also having great years, but the Reds are nowhere close to a playoff spot. 

Nolan Arenado, Freddie Freeman and Paul Goldschmidt are also having very good seasons on teams that are currently in the playoff hunt, but how do you deny the best player on the league's best team?

After all, where would the Cubs be without Baez this season? 

Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo have battled through injuries and bouts of ineffectiveness, the pitching staff has had all kinds of consistency/health woes and Willson Contreras has yet to find his power stroke at the plate.

At the very least, "El Mago" has been the most important player on the North Side of Chicago during the first 3.5 months of 2018.

Nico Hoerner makes great catch in first game with South Bend

Nico Hoerner makes great catch in first game with South Bend

Cubs first-round pick Nico Hoerner made his debut with the Class-A South Bend Cubs, and he did not disappoint.

The 23-year old shortstop showed off impressive hops during an acrobatic grab in the topf of the second inning in his first game with the South Bend Cubs. Hoerner will surely be an exciting defensive prospect with ability like this.

As far as offense goes, through four at-bats at South Bend, Hoerner is batting .500, and this comes after he hit .318 with a home run and two RBI through seven games with the Eugene Emeralds, the Cubs Class A short-season affiliate.

Here is to hoping we continue to see big-time plays from Hoerner.