Kris Bryant delivers another MVP performance for red-hot Cubs

Kris Bryant delivers another MVP performance for red-hot Cubs

It’s only the middle of August, but the Cubs are already getting questions about October lineups, the odd man out of the playoff rotation and how soon before the best team in baseball starts thinking about shaping the postseason roster.

This is really all Kris Bryant knows as a Cub. No rebuilding seasons, no wait until next year, just a realistic expectation to win the World Series now and keep winning later.

If not for his partnership in Bryzzo Souvenir Co., Bryant might be the National League’s clear-cut MVP favorite, instead of potentially splitting the Baseball Writers’ Association of America vote with Anthony Rizzo.

Bryant launched two more home-run balls during Thursday afternoon’s 9-6 win over the Milwaukee Brewers at Wrigley Field, going 5-for-5 with five RBI and falling a triple short of hitting for the cycle. That made Bryant the fifth player in franchise history with 30 homers in an age-24-or-younger season, joining Ernie Banks, Ron Santo, Sammy Sosa and Rizzo.

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“He always jokes around with me, saying: ‘You know, when Miguel Cabrera won the Triple Crown, Prince Fielder was hitting behind him,’” Bryant said. “He always tells me: ‘I’m your Prince.’”

Bryant leads in homers (30-25) and batting average (.296-.291), while Rizzo has driven in eight more runs (86) and posted a fractionally higher .OPS (.960-.956). Rizzo is a Gold Glove-caliber defender at first base, while Bryant is an All-Star third baseman who can be shifted all over the infield or moved to any outfield position. 

“I can’t say enough about having him behind me,” Bryant said, “as a mentor and someone I learn a lot from (with) how he goes about his at-bats. Even though he’s a lefty and I’m righty, it seems to me – and to him – that they pitch us very similarly.

“That (MVP talk), honestly, is just a byproduct of us pushing each other and really expecting more out of one another.”

If Rizzo finds the right balance between goofy and competitive within the right clubhouse, then Bryant brings a cool sense of professionalism and purpose, a Rookie of the Year who blended in easily and blocked out the hype.

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“This guy’s work ethic is incredible,” said manager Joe Maddon, who won’t reveal his MVP pick. “He’s a very humble man, too. It’s not all about me. I know his picture’s everywhere, but he doesn’t act that way. He takes his craft seriously. He loves to play the game.”

Beating a nondescript Brewers team four times in almost a 48-hour window doesn’t say all that much about the Cubs, who have drained all the suspense from the division race, running away from the St. Louis Cardinals (13 games back) and Pittsburgh Pirates (14) while going 24-8 since the All-Star break and pushing their run differential to plus-209.  

But until now, the Cubs hadn’t gone on an 18-for-21 winning stretch since 1945, their last pennant-winning season. And having Rizzo and Bryant under club control through the 2021 season means that whatever happens, the party won’t stop in Wrigleyville.

“I was asked about (Bryant) when he was first coming up into the league,” winning pitcher Jake Arrieta said. “‘What do you got on this guy?’ I told them: ‘He’s going to be one of the top-five hitters in the game the day he makes his debut.’ I think that’s pretty accurate.”

Cubs aren’t trading Yu Darvish this winter, despite reported inquiries

Cubs aren’t trading Yu Darvish this winter, despite reported inquiries

Whether the Cubs trade a member of their position player core this winter — i.e. Kris Bryant, Willson Contreras — is to be determined. Both have been fixtures in rumors this offseason, and the Cubs may make a deal to replenish their barren farm system and retool their roster with the organization’s long-term stability in mind.

Yu Darvish, on the other hand, is a different story.

No, the Cubs won’t be trading Darvish this winter, despite the inquiries they received at the Winter Meetings this week, according to Joel Sherman of the New York Post.

A year ago, this would be an entirely different conversation. Darvish was coming off a disappointing debut season on the North Side in which he made eight starts and posted a 4.95 ERA in 40 innings. He didn’t throw a single big-league pitch after May 20 due to a lingering arm issue that led to surgery last November.

2019 was only Year 2 of the lucrative six-year contract Darvish signed in February 2018. But between the injury and his struggles before it that season, the narrative entering 2019 was shifting towards Darvish being a potential bust.

The narrative around Darvish is obviously much different now, thanks to the stellar second half performance he put together last season. In 13 starts, the 33-year-old delivered a 2.76 ERA, striking out 118 batters compared to a mere seven walks in 81 2/3 innings.

Not only was Darvish walking the walk, but he was talking the talk. He was determined to turn things around after posting a 5.01 ERA in the first half, asking then manager Joe Maddon to start the Cubs’ first game after the All-Star break. The result? Six innings of two-hit, no-run ball with eight strikeouts and one walk. Darvish's comeback was officially on.

Bust? Darvish is far from it now. He opted in to the remaining four years of his contract earlier this offseason, calling the Cubs "perfect" for him.

If the Cubs were entering a rebuild, fielding Darvish trade offers would make plenty of sense. He's owed $81 million through 2023, a bargain compared to the deals Gerrit Cole (nine years, $324 million — Yankees) and Stephen Strasburg (seven years, $245 million — Nationals) earned this offseason. Darvish's contract is desirable, and trading him would help alleviate the Cubs' notoriously tight payroll situation, freeing up money for them to put towards other needs.

But the Cubs aren’t rebuilding, and trading Darvish would create a tremendous hole in a rotation with plenty of uncertainty after next season. José Quintana is set to hit free agency after 2020 and Jon Lester could join him, if his 2021 option doesn’t vest (he must pitch 200 innings next season for that to occur). Heck, even Tyler Chatwood's deal is up after 2020.

In one season, Darvish has elevated himself to the No. 1 pitcher in the Cubs rotation. The Cubs won't be better next season if they trade Bryant or Contreras, but they'd still be competitive and acquire assets for the future.

One player doesn't make a team in baseball, but the Cubs need Darvish in their rotation, not someone else's. Unless they're absolutely blown away by a trade offer, Darvish isn't going anywhere.

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Sports Talk Live Podcast: MLB 2019 Winter Meetings come to an end

NBC Sports Chicago

Sports Talk Live Podcast: MLB 2019 Winter Meetings come to an end

SportsTalk Live is on location in San Diego for the final day of the MLB Winter Meetings.

0:00- Chuck Garfien, Tony Andracki and Vinnie Duber join Kap to recap the Winter Meetings. Tony was right-- the Cubs didn't make a move. Plus, should the White Sox have done more in San Diego?

12:00- Legendary baseball writer Peter Gammons joins Kap and Chuck. The talk about the price for pitching and what the Cubs might do with Kris Bryant. Plus, Gammons talks about a text he received saying the White Sox were talking with the Red Sox about Andrew Benintendi and David Price. Would that make sense for the Southsiders?

20:00- White Sox World Series winning closer Bobby Jenks joins Kap to discuss his emotional article in The Players Tribune. They discuss his injuries with the Red Sox, the back surgery that almost cost him his life and then his downward spiral into addiction.

Listen here or via the embedded player below:

Sports Talk Live Podcast