Cubs

Kris Bryant bounces back at the plate in second career game

kris-bryant-cubs-0418.png

Kris Bryant bounces back at the plate in second career game

Kris Bryant's major league debut had everybody freaking out.

While most were simply giddy with excitement over the arrival of baseball's top prospect on the North Side, some panicked after just one day of results — or rather lack thereof — at the plate. Bryant went 0-for-4 with three strikeouts in his first big league game.

While a few might have lamented that the sky was falling, Bryant preached taking it easy. It was just one day.

That message proved fortuitous after his second major league game, in which he went 2-for-3 with a pair of singles, an RBI and three walks.

[MORE CUBS: Castro helps Cubs walk off vs. Padres: A trend in the making?]

Yes, Bryant reached base five times after his less-than-ideal debut, certainly quelling any worries that he's anything but as advertised.

“Everybody’s looking for hits all the time. We always look for good at-bats, being a good decision-maker. He was that today," manager Joe Maddon said after the Cubs' 7-6, extra-inning victory over the visiting San Diego Padres. "And then he gets the big knock — broken bat, we’ll take it — against a really tough right-handed pitcher.

"I think the fans, the folks that really watch closely, they understand the importance of accepting your walk. … I think after yesterday, it was kind of engrained in his mind that, ‘I’m not going to do that again.’ He had some really good at-bats. He went 0-2 to 4-2 one at-bat, and that’s spectacular.”

Bryant reached via the walk in his first two plate appearances Saturday before collecting his first major league hit: a broken-bat blooper to shallow center field, a hit that drove in a run to tie the game at 2 in the fifth. Another walk came later on, and he was right in the middle of the game-winning rally in the bottom of the 11th, busting down the first-base line to hustle out an infield single. Two batters later, Starlin Castro delivered the walk-off winner.

It was as refreshing a sign as Cubs fans could have imagined following what happened Friday.

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

No one was really worried that an 0-for-4 debut was some kind of gloomy omen for what's expected to be a promising career. But take it from someone who's been under the North Side microscope before, getting off to a good start certainly helps.

“It’s not easy for him on the first day. Millions of people waiting for you, it’s not easy," Castro said. "He did a great job today. He took three walks and then two basehits, it’s awesome.

“It’s a really good game for him. I think he got his confidence back because he got a hit. When you come up first in the big leagues, you get a hit right away, you can have your confidence right away. Now he’ll be really better.”

The bottom line is, as it seemingly always is, that the baseball season is a long one. One day doesn't matter too much in the grand scheme of a season and especially not in the grand scheme of a career, of which Bryant's is just two days old. Day 2 went much better at the plate than Day 1 did. The Cubs are expecting many more of those good days from Bryant from here on out.

“He did a really good job," catcher Miguel Montero said. "Obviously we know he’s got talent, we just need to take a little bit of pressure off his shoulders. He’s still a young kid, and he’s got all the talent in the world. He’s going to be good. We just need to ask you guys to leave it alone a little bit. Let him have fun out there. But yeah, he did an amazing job. He took three walks, and we all know he can hit. So obviously we’re not worried about him.”

 

Jed Hoyer says Cubs plan to add depth before the trade deadline

Jed Hoyer says Cubs plan to add depth before the trade deadline

With the second half of the season about to kick off Thursday afternoon, the Cubs front office is in the final stretch of roster building as the July 31st non-waiver trade deadline looms.

Cubs General Manager Jed Hoyer spoke with NBC Sports Chicago's very own David Kaplan today on his ESPN 1000 radio show answering plenty of questions on what the Cubs' gameplan is before the trade deadline. 

There has already been a flurry of moves over the past few days, with two of the more enticing trade pieces being moved in new Dodger shortstop Manny Machado and former Padres reliever Brad Hand, who was traded to the Indians Thursday morning.

But when asked about going after big-name talent at the deadline, Hoyer explained while the team may "engage" in those conversations, the focus for him and the Cubs was on adding depth to the roster. 

"Obviously, we'll be involved in those [trade] discussions, but I do feel like adding depth is something we are going to do. We're going to be in on every discussion, but at the same time, I do believe we have the pieces internally to be a heck of a team." 

The name that has garnered attention recently has been Mets starting pitcher Jacob deGrom, who is currently having the best season of his career at age 30, but Hoyer made no indication the Cubs would once again facilitate another blockbuster deal.

And even with Tyler Chatwood struggling to locate the strike zone this season, Hoyer made it clear the front office hasn't lost faith in their second biggest investment of the off-season. 

"We're confident [Chatwood] will have a better second half, we're going to have a really big, long pennant race," Hoyer said. "It's going to be really challenging second half and we're going to need all the pitching we can possibly get and I think Tyler is going to be a big part of that." 

In terms of team needs, the Cubs are a club with few holes on their roster but could stand to add more pitching in both the bullpen and rotation with everyone but Jon Lester having frustrating moments in the first half of the season.

Making moves similar to the Mike Montgomery trade in 2016 are what Hoyer relishes, telling Kaplan those are the moves the Cubs "pride themselves on." 

But when it comes to Cubs improving on their already impressive first half of baseball, Jed Hoyer continued to back the players who are currently on the roster.

And while it may not be the move that creates the social media buzz fans crave this time of year, Hoyer knows he can get more from his current roster in the second half. 

"There's no doubt that the best way we can get better is by having guys we already have [play] better than they have to date." 

 

Yadier Molina sees something familiar in Cubs: 'They remind me of what we were back in the day'

Yadier Molina sees something familiar in Cubs: 'They remind me of what we were back in the day'

Yadier Molina has been playing the Cubs for a decade and a half.

For 15 years, Molina has been one of the faces of the St. Louis Cardinals, making nine All-Star Games, winning eight Gold Gloves, playing in nine postseasons and winning a pair of World Series championships. And for much of that time, his Cardinals had the upper hand in the rivalry between the two National League Central foes.

But that's changed in recent years. The Cubs have ascended to the Cardinals' old spot as a perennial contender, and it was their defeat of the Cardinals in the NLDS back in 2015 that really seemed to usher in the current era of World Series expectations on the North Side.

If you watch any rivalry long enough, you'll see the balance of power shift back and forth. Molina has been watching this rivalry for a long time.

"They've got good chemistry, they've got good talent there, they play together," Molina said Tuesday in Washington, D.C., before suiting up alongside Willson Contreras and Javy Baez on the NL All-Star team. "So yeah, they remind me of what we were back in the day with the Cardinals."

High praise considering all that Molina and those old Cardinals teams accomplished.

It wasn't too long ago that the Cardinals were a dominant force in this division and in this rivalry. Between 2009 and 2015, the Cubs lost double-digit games to the Cardinals in all but one season. The Cardinals won a World Series title during that seven-year span (2011), ending all but one of those campaigns with a postseason appearance. The Cubs, meanwhile, had five straight fifth-place finishes and missed the playoffs in all but the last.

But since the end of the 2015 regular season, the Cubs are 30-20 against their biggest rivals, a record that includes that 3-1 series win in the 2015 NLDS.

And now it's the Cubs who have seemingly built a winning machine. Like the Cardinals dominated the division with a core cast of characters that included Molina as well as Albert Pujols, Adam Wainwright and Matt Holliday, the Cubs now have that reliable core featuring Anthony Rizzo, Kris Bryant, Baez, Contreras and so many others. They're expected to be at the top of the Central standings and compete for championships, just like the Cardinals were for much of a decade.

The Cardinals, of course, have quite recently been thrown into a state of atypical tumult with manager Mike Matheny fired in the middle of the season and a couple off-the-field controversies grabbing national headlines. That's not to say they're exactly out of contention, though, as they begin the second half with an above-.500 record, 7.5 games back of the division-leading Cubs and only four games back for the second NL wild card spot.

But when you compare the drama-drenched Cardinals with the Cubs — who while no one would describe as firing on all cylinders have managed to stay not far behind their 2016 pace — there's a noticeable gap, a gap that's somewhat crazy to think about for those who can remember the Cardinals' past dominance in this rivalry.

Though the Cardinals have actually won more head-to-head matchups this season (five of the eight), the five-game set to begin the second half — the first of eight games between the two teams over the next two weekends — would figure to favor the Cubs, who won 12 of 15 to close out the first half.

"It's important for us to go out there and try to win the series. Right now, we need that as a club," Molina said. "It's going to be tough. The Cubs, they're playing good baseball right now, they've got chemistry there. It's going to be tough, but our concentration is on trying to win the series."