Jason Heyward will be an X-factor in Cubs-Cardinals rivalry


Jason Heyward will be an X-factor in Cubs-Cardinals rivalry

Jason Heyward could become the next Cub killer. This also looks like a free agent who would check all the boxes for Theo Epstein’s front office. That left-handed swing and Gold Glove defense would also be perfect for Yankee Stadium.

The St. Louis Cardinals acquired Heyward with the hope that he would be their next great core player, planning for the future and eventually life after Matt Holliday and Yadier Molina.

Otherwise, the Cardinals wouldn’t have done that four-player deal last November, watching Shelby Miller (2.07 ERA) blossom into an All-Star with the Atlanta Braves.

Either way, Heyward should be an X-factor in the Cubs-Cardinals rivalry. In leaving Atlanta — the city he grew up around and the organization that made him a first-round pick in 2007 — Heyward almost sounded like Jon Lester after signing that six-year, $155 million megadeal.

[MORE CUBS: 'A loss is a loss': Cubs feel sting after Cards deal gutting defeat]

“Everyone here did their part — more than their part — to make me feel at home and welcome,” Heyward said Wednesday, sitting at his locker inside Wrigley Field’s cramped visiting clubhouse. “But I still had to do my part as far as just feeling adjusted and becoming accustomed to everything.

“It’s kind of like the monkey on your back. You have the added element every day (where) there’s something to go along with the natural preparation of getting ready for a game.

“But I’ve had a blast. And it’s been nothing but positive things for me to say about my experience.”

If the Cubs really can afford to hand out a nine-figure contract next winter, you would think they would prioritize pitching, a frontline guy like David Price or Jordan Zimmermann to go with Lester and Jake Arrieta.

[MORE CUBS: Jason Hammel injury shows how much Cubs need more pitching]

But Heyward will turn 26 in August and should have his best years in front of him, though it’s hard to put a price tag on that potential, the flashes of patience, speed, power and defense.

Heyward has already been a top-10 National League position player in terms of WAR — a metric that weighs defense heavily — in three of his five seasons. He gets on base around 35 percent of the time. He stole 20-plus bases in 2012 and 2014. He has exceeded the 20-homer, 80-RBI marks only once (in 2012).

The Cubs have questions marks in the outfield — especially if Kris Bryant and Kyle Schwarber stay at third base and catcher — and 2016 is too soon to count on the Albert Almoras and Billy McKinneys in the farm system.

“They’re a good team in a really good division,” Heyward said. “That’s plain and simple. They can go out and win any night. They have a good enough team to do so. They have new leadership (and that) can go a long way.”

[MORE CUBS: Maddon comfortable with Bryant, Rizzo in Home Run Derby]

The chain of events that led Heyward to St. Louis began with Atlanta’s decision to promote a hometown, homegrown player and put him in their 2010 Opening Day lineup — and not gain the extra year of club control the Cubs got when they stashed Bryant at Triple-A Iowa to start this season.

Heyward hit a three-run homer off Carlos Zambrano in his first big-league at-bat as the Braves gave the Cubs a 16-5 beatdown at Turner Field. Atlanta won 91 games that season and made the playoffs as a wild-card team.

“You don’t think about it at that time,” Heyward said. “It’s a business. Certain things you can never control. Just try to control what you can. Don’t take anything for granted.

“You understand that trades and things like that are part of it. Growing up in Georgia, I’ve seen the Braves make plenty of moves like that, and you always wonder why they’re letting go of certain guys, and it just happened time after time after time. So for anybody that was surprised — I wasn’t.”

[SHOP CUBS: Get your Cubs gear right here]

The Cardinals wanted to use this season as a recruiting pitch and a chance to get to know Heyward, who’s hitting .278 with nine homers and 30 RBIs and slowly heating up from April (.611 OPS) through May (.783 OPS) and into June (.881 OPS) and what should be a huge platform in the playoffs.

“I want to go for a winning attitude, a winning-mindset organization,” Heyward said. “After that, let everything else take care of itself. I’d just like to try to win as many games as possible and know that’s the reason you show up every day for work.

“When the time comes to make decisions, we’ll see what happens. Just tackle it then. Right now, I’m in a perfect place.”

A messy night at Wrigley Field ends without a pitch being thrown

A messy night at Wrigley Field ends without a pitch being thrown

The NLCS rematch will have to wait another day.

Mother Nature and the power at Wrigley Field care not for your excitement about a "big series" between the Cubs and Dodgers.

Thunderstorms rolled over the North Side of Chicago, where the Dodgers ended the Cubs' postseason run 8 months ago. 

On top of that, the power at Wrigley Field was not cooperating with the lights down the right field line going out for hours during the rain delay. 

The lights came back on at one point before again going out again roughly a half hour before Monday night's game was officially called. After a delay stretching almost three hours, word finally filtered out just before 10 p.m. the game would be postponed a day.

The Cubs and Dodgers will make the game up as part of a day-night doubleheader Tuesday at Wrigley Field with the first game starting at 12:05 p.m. and the second at the regularly scheduled time of 7:05 p.m. Tyler Chatwood will start the first game for the Cubs with Mike Montgomery slated to go Game 2.

As of 10 p.m. Monday night, the Cubs were unsure what caused the power issue at Wrigley Field but were working on fixing the problem ahead of Tuesday's scheduled doubleheader.

The evening started with the tarp being rolled onto the field by the Cubs grounds crew roughly an hour before scheduled first pitch with a forecast calling for a 100 percent chance of rain.

Only a light rain fell until a downpour began around 8:15 p.m.:

That lasted only about a half hour before the grounds crew came back out around 8:45 p.m. to partially remove the tarp and attempt to get the field ready to play.

The only issue at that point was the light and a sinister forecast.

"It takes 45 minutes to get the field ready to play," said Julian Green, Cubs director of communications. "So once you take that tarp off, you saw them putting the chalk lines down, getting ready.

"We wanted to be ready — even in the face of rain — if the lights came back on, we wanted to make sure we could play baseball, even if it was a limited window of opportunity."

As of 11 p.m., that second bout of rain had yet to materialize, but the lights issue also wasn't corrected and play on the field would've been impossible.

Fans lingered throughout the stadium for nearly three hours before an official conclusion came down. The Cubs kept the same announcement on the right field video board about the weather delay while the left field video board displayed the Brewers-Pirates and other MLB games.

This is the only trip to Chicago the Dodgers make throughout the 2018 season so the two teams and Major League Baseball did all they could to try to get a game in and avoid any issue where these two teams would have to play on a mutual off-day later in the year. 

The Cubs were in the midst of a stretch of 17 games in 17 days without a day off. They're still on that same schedule, though now with an unexpected day off Monday and a doubleheader Tuesday.

The Cubs are no stranger to postponements this season as wacky weather has continued to hamper this MLB season.

"Not only for the Chicago Cubs, but Chicago in general, this has been a really interesting spring and summer season," Green said. "We're taking our licks just like everybody else is.

"Our plan is to play baseball tomorrow and make sure we can accomodate fans as best as possible. So fans who have tickets to tonight's game will be able to use them for tomorrow."

How the Cubs are trying to help Kris Bryant out of his slump

How the Cubs are trying to help Kris Bryant out of his slump

Whatever Kris Bryant does from here, it's just frosting on the cake that is his legacy.

That's one way to look at the lasting impact of a guy like Bryant, who morphed from "The Chosen One" as the No. 2 overall pick. He's lived up to the hype from Day 1, has a Rookie of the Year and NL MVP Award in his trophy case and — most importantly of all — led the Cubs to their first World Series championship in 108 years.

A slump in May and June of 2018 won't tarnish that legacy.

But you can also forgive Cubs fans if they're growing a little antsy with their stud player. 

Just rest easy that he's growing a little antsy, too.

After chronicling his "temper tantrums" and actually admitting he gets so angry he is prone to breaking bats in frustration (still find that really hard to believe) last week, Bryant still isn't quite over his slump.

Maybe he's just simply trying to do too much right now.

"Kris is fine," Jon Lester said. "I mean, I think anytime you have a guy like that, he's got such high expectations not only of himself but the other people outside of the baseball world.

"I think he feels that — he feels pressure from his teammates, he feels pressure from himself and he wants to perform and he wants to do well every night. When he doesn't, it seems like he just keeps adding on. The rock on his back gets a little bigger every time."

As recently as May 22, Bryant was hitting .303 with a 1.007 OPS.

But since then — a span of 21 games — he's hitting just .241 with a .316 on-base percentage and .310 slugging percentage, good for a .627 OPS. More alarming than anything, he's struck out 28 times in 87 at-bats, taking a step back in the area he has made the most improvement in since breaking into the league in 2015.

The power has been an issue for even longer. Bryant just recently went a month without a homer before sending one into the bleachers Friday night at Busch Stadium.

Still, since May 15, he has only 8 extra-base hits (7 doubles and that 1 homer) in 27 games.

The struggle is real right now, but that hasn't stopped the Cubs from going 17-11 during Bryant's dip in power.

GM Jed Hoyer reiterated again that Bryant is the last guy the Cubs worry about in the big picture.

"The way he runs the bases, the way he plays defense, I feel like he's contributing to wins even when he might be struggling at the plate a little bit," Hoyer said Monday evening. "With guys like him, I always look at it and think to myself — that means a hot streak is right around the corner.

"I said that about Anthony [Rizzo] in April when he was struggling and he's been great since May 1. I think Kris will have the same kind of turnaraound. With him, it's just a matter of when he breaks out.

"Over the course of the season, every great player goes through one or two big slumps. We're in a strange sport where even the greatest players are not slump-proof. He'll get out of it and we'll all reap the benefits when he does."

Even with the struggles, Bryant ranks 23rd among position players in WAR (Fangraphs) with 2.3, pacing the Cubs in that category. That still puts him on pace for a roughly 6-WAR pace, which would be his lowest throughout his MLB career but is still very clearly elite.

In an effort to get him back to the "KB" we've seen so much over the last four years, Joe Maddon has twice resorted to bumping him to the top of the lineup, including Monday night's game against the Dodgers.

Maddon is hoping a move to the leadoff spot will reinstill in Bryant's head that he doesn't need to be a power hitter to help the team win.

For right now, it works. After all, Bryant is still tied for 9th in baseball in OBP (.389). 

"You really do start trying too hard," Maddon said. "You try to force things as opposed to letting them come to you. Especially a power guy that's not hit home runs in a bit. My take on power guys is that it normally is cyclical. They'll get it for a while, then they'll get away with it, then it comes back."

Like Hoyer, Maddon talked up Bryant's abilities as a "winning player" in every other area of the game even when he's not going yard. That includes his daily hustle and effort.

"When a guy like him goes through this moment, I want him to focus on that — not homers," Maddon said. "He probably hears that way too much about the power situation and I'm really not interested in that. 

"Put him back in the leadoff spot for the reasons I just said — he can help win a game in so many different ways and I want him to just focus on that. ... He needs our support; he's gonna get it. I just put him in that top spot to readjust how he's thinking and that's all."