Cubs

Kris Bryant embraces the Cubs hype, lives up to big expectations

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Kris Bryant embraces the Cubs hype, lives up to big expectations

PITTSBURGH — Kris Bryant had his own adidas billboard across from the iconic marquee before he played his first game at Wrigley Field. Bryant also shot a Red Bull commercial two days before he found out he would be promoted from Triple-A Iowa.

“That’s pretty solid, man,” Cubs manager Joe Maddon said. “I don’t think I’ve ever seen anything quite like that anticipatory moment that he had to go through, and I thought he dealt with it extremely well. Couldn’t have dealt with it any better than he did.”

Bryant embraces the hype — and sometimes even feeds into it — while living up to the big expectations. That helps explain why there’s a completely different vibe around this Cubs team now.

Even if Wednesday’s 4-3 loss to the Pittsburgh Pirates didn’t have the same offensive fireworks or a dramatic late-inning comeback at PNC Park. It ended with Bryant striking out swinging with the potential game-tying run on first base, but his at-bats are already becoming must-see events.

[MORE CUBS: Cubs move Kris Bryant to center field after Dexter Fowler's injury]

Win or lose, it’s not hard to make Bryant the story. He broke into his home-run trot in the first inning, mistakenly thinking he hooked a ball inside the left-field foul pole for his first big-league bomb. The 6-foot-5 third baseman also walked, doubled, scored two runs and played center field in the eighth inning.

Bryant knew super-agent Scott Boras would rip the Cubs, but he didn’t get his hands dirty during the service-time dispute in spring training. Bryant petted that goat, holding it on a leash while waiting for a bus to Chicago in that clever “Down on the Farm” spot for Red Bull.

Bryant is also hitting .409 (9-for-22) with a 1.143 OPS through his first six games in the majors, showing no signs of being in awe of his surroundings.

Bryant should have crossover appeal at a time when Major League Baseball is desperate to connect to the younger generation — and the Cubs have baseball plans directly dependent on a business model that hinges on box-office sales, a renovated Wrigley Field and the promised TV megadeal.

[MORE CUBS: Edwin Jackson earning bigger role in Cubs bullpen]

“Kris has a unique personality in addition to having a unique talent,” Boras said. “He’s the kind of guy that’s very focused on the game and what he does and how he does it.

“He’s a baseball player. He really is. All the other things, I think, are enjoyable. Like you go in and you do something like that (commercial). You take a few hours and you put on barn boots and you go try to milk a cow and the goat thing.

“To me, that brought a message about a very historical thing for the team he plays for. He did it in (his own) way and also managed all the other things that went on in spring training by staying completely out of it: ‘I’m going to go play baseball. I’m going to do my best.’

“In dealing with your questions, which are appropriate, and managing it a particular way, he just has a unique sense for it. (It’s) being able to turn that off — and turn that on — and go out and play and do all the things he did.”

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

Bryant grew up in a stable, two-parent family and noticed the way Derek Jeter always stayed on message, keeping his reputation intact over the years and retiring as a New York Yankees icon.

Bryant could be seen signing autographs for fans throughout spring training, understanding that’s one of his responsibilities.

“Absolutely,” Bryant said. “I remember going to games when I was a kid and being the kid asking for autographs and what it was like when people would turn me down. And what it was like when people would come over and sign for me.

“I like to give people that respect. They’re here watching me play and rooting me on, so that’s a small thing that I can do for them.”

The bottom line: If this team gets hot, everyone can keep getting rich, the Cubs, Bryant, Boras Corp. Bryant’s father, Mike, loved how adidas rolled out the “WORTH THE WAIT” message on Addison Street.

“That was awesome,” Mike said. “Everybody made a big deal about it. It wasn’t. They had the billboard bought six months ago, for crying out loud. You can’t get billboard space in three days. Come on. Adidas has been really good to Kris, and they’re all about the Cubs winning, too. We want the Cubs to win.”

Forget 2015, the Brewers are more like 2016 Cubs

Forget 2015, the Brewers are more like 2016 Cubs

With the Milwaukee Brewers about to kick off the NLCS, many Cubs fans and pundits have taken to comparing them to the 2015 Cubs.

At first glance, it's easy to see why — they're in the playoffs for the first time as something of an underdog and "surprise" team — but that's not the recent Cubs squad we should be comparing the 2018 Brewers to.

This Milwaukee team is a lot more like the 2016 Cubs.

Here's why:

1. They're not a surprise.

Nobody expected the 2015 Cubs to win 97 games and wind up in the NLCS. They were expected to compete very soon, but everything went right in a red-hot August, they rode Jake Arrieta's right arm to the NLDS and then toppled the Cardinals to get to the LCS, where they ran into the brick wall that was Matt Harvey and and the Mets pitching staff.

The 2018 Brewers are not — and should not be — a surprise. Anybody who was caught off guard by this team being so good hasn't been paying much attention. The Brewers were leading the NL Central in 2017 for much of the year before a late-season fade that coincided with the Cubs' late-season surge.

This Milwaukee squad was always supposed to be one of the top teams in the NL in 2018 and they really hit their groove in September to chase down the Cubs. Still, it took a Game 163 to force a changing of the guard atop the division.

2. They greatly improved expectations with a big free-agent OF signing over the winter.

The Cubs had Jason Heyward in between 2015 and '16. The Brewers had Lorenzo Cain.

Cain has provided quite a bit more offense in the first season of his 5-year, $80 million contract but both Cain and Heyward provided leadership in the clubhouse and elite defense in the outfield in the first years with their new teams.

3. The Brewers have the NL MVP.

This one's an easy comparison to make, though Cubs fans will hate it.

Christian Yelich is this season's NL MVP. Sorry, Javy Baez fans. "El Mago" had a great season, but it's impossible to give the award to anybody but Yelich.

Yelich winning the league's most coveted accolade would be another perfect tie-in to the 2016 Cubs, who had Kris Bryant take home NL MVP.

4. They have a dominant LHP out of the bullpen.

Josh Hader has been doing his best Aroldis Chapman impression in 2018 as an absolutely dominant southpaw out of the bullpen. Unlike Chapman, Hader's spent all season with the Brewers, but like Chapman in '16, Hader will be leaned on heavily for multiple innings throughout the rest of the playoffs.

5. They picked up some valuable in-season assets.

The 2016 Cubs dealt for Chapman, but they also traded for reliever Joe Smith and called up Willson Contreras in the middle of the year, who provided a spark for the offense.

The 2018 Brewers have acquired plenty of valuable assets along the way this season from Mike Moustakas to Jonathan Schoop to Erik Kratz (more on him later) to Gio Gonzalez. But one of their most important additions (especially in October) was the promotion of top prospect Corbin Burnes, a flame-throwing right-hander who posted a 2.61 ERA in 30 regular-season games and allowed only 1 hit in 4 shutout innings in the DS.

6. They're on a mission with a chip on their shoulder.

The 2015 Cubs had a little bit of a chip on their shoulder as they attempted to take down the divisional powerhouse that was the St. Louis Cardinals. But again, they were a surprise contender - even within that clubhouse (especially early in 2015). But after falling short in the NLCS, the Cubs retooled over the winter and came back with one goal in mind - to win the World Series.

It was a goal they accomplished. We'll see if the Brewers will be able to do the same, but they certainly came to play in 2018 with a chip on their shoulder and the ultimate goal of winning the final MLB game of the year.

The Brewers didn't lead the division from Day 1 and weren't able to coast into October, but they still wound up with homefield advantage throughout the NL playoffs.

7. They have journeyman catcher who is winning over fans' hearts.

This is a fun one.

The 2016 Cubs had David "Grandpa" Rossy who still elicts deafening cheers whenever he's shown on the giant video board at Wrigley Field. The 2018 Brewers have Kratz, who has become a fan favorite recently and was mic'd up for the final out of the NLDS.

Ross was 39 when he helped lead the Cubs to the 2016 World Series and Chicago was his eighth stop (seventh different team) along his MLB journey. Kratz is 38 and on his ninth stop (seventh different team) along his MLB journey.

In fact, Ross and Kratz are so intertwined, they've already been compared to each other by MLB.com.

But the major difference is Kratz has zero postseason playing experience until a week ago. Will he be able to ride off into the sunset with a championship ring on his finger the way Ross did?

We'll have an answer to that over the next few weeks in the final chapter of the Brewers' 2018 season, though Cubs fans surely wouldn't be too happy to see their division rivals celebrating with a World Series parade just 90 minutes north of Wrigley Field.

Cubs bench coach Brandon Hyde interviewed for Rangers' manager opening

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USA TODAY

Cubs bench coach Brandon Hyde interviewed for Rangers' manager opening

The Cubs just lost one coach with hitting coach Chili Davis getting fired. Another opening on Joe Maddon's coaching staff could also open up.

According to report from MLB.com's T.R. Sullivan, bench coach Brandon Hyde interviewed with the Rangers on Thursday.

Rangers farm director Jayce Tingler was the first candidate the club interviewed, but Hyde and Astros bench coach Joe Espada were also interviewed.

The 45-year-old Hyde has been with the Cubs since 2014. He was a bench coach in 2014 under Rick Renteria before moving to first base coach from 2015-17. This past season he moved back to his original role as bench coach.

He played four seasons in the minors for the White Sox.

The Rangers job opened up when Jeff Banister was fired on Sept. 21. Banister won AL Manager of the Year in 2015 and guided the Rangers to back-to-back playoff appearances in 2015 and 2016, but couldn't get out of the ALDS either year. A 78-84 season in 2017 was followed by an even worse 2018, which led to his firing late this season.