Cubs

Kris Bryant gives Cubs a wake-up call in walk-off win over Rockies

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Kris Bryant gives Cubs a wake-up call in walk-off win over Rockies

With one swing, Kris Bryant changed the entire mood around Wrigley Field, Cubs fans jumping up and down in the bleachers late Monday night.

Bryant flipped his helmet into the air after rounding third base, heading toward the mosh pit at home plate, where the Cubs waited to celebrate a dramatic 9-8 win over the Colorado Rockies.

Bryant had just beaten Rockies closer John Axford with two outs in the ninth inning, crushing a cutter over the left-center field wall for a two-run homer that scrubbed away a bullpen mess and kept the Cubs within 2.5 games of the San Francisco Giants for the second wild card. 

“It just wakes us up a little bit,” Bryant said. “I think we were kind of nonchalant the last couple games – myself included.”

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

To stay relevant this summer, the Cubs (52-46) need to take advantage of this 10-game stretch against the National League’s three last-place teams, which began by getting swept by the Philadelphia Phillies over the weekend, creating more questions about a young team’s focus and maturity.

Bryant made the 27th out in Cole Hamels’ no-hitter on Saturday, driving a ball out to the warning track in center field, where Odubel Herrera awkwardly fell forward to make the catch in the dirt.

“The last three or four games I think I’ve hit five or six out to the warning track,” Bryant said. “That’s obviously frustrating, but I believe in baseball gods, and I believe they pay you back. I guess I got one today.”

Cubs fans must have been cursing the baseball gods after watching Jason Motte and Rafael Soriano in the ninth inning. The same crowd that cheered wildly for Bryant booed Soriano when the Cubs looked like a team fading from the playoff picture.

[MORE: With Cubs at a crossroads, Starlin Castro goes to work

Motte couldn’t protect a three-run lead and close out the Rockies (42-55), giving up a leadoff homer to Daniel Descalso and back-to-back hits, leaving a no-outs jam that Soriano couldn’t escape. Carlos Gonzalez lined Soriano’s 91 mph fastball over the right-field wall and into the patio seats beneath the video board for the go-ahead two-run homer.

Bryant – the All-Star third baseman who appeared to be hitting the rookie wall – bailed the Cubs out in a walk-off win.

“It’s got to be one of the best feelings in sports,” Bryant said, “to do it on this stage, in front of the fans here in Chicago, and for myself, obviously. I’ve been struggling a little bit. But I’m never going to give up. I’m going to work as hard as I can and know that it’s going to turn around.”

Cubs executive Jason McLeod reportedly linked to Giants' GM opening

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USA TODAY

Cubs executive Jason McLeod reportedly linked to Giants' GM opening

Is this the offseason that Cubs executive Jason McLeod finally becomes an MLB general manager?

According to Bruce Levine, the Giants are reportedly interested in McLeod, the Cubs senior vice president of scouting and player development, for their vacant general manager position.

McLeod joined the Cubs' front office in 2011 alongside Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer. Before the Cubs, he spent six years in the Red Sox front office and two in the Padres' (with Hoyer, who was San Diego's general manager from 2010-2011). 

Of course, the Giants' reported interest in McLeod doesn't necessarily mean that he will interview for the job. However, it's worth noting that McLeod interviewed for the Twins' general manager job in 2016; he also withdrew his name from consideration for the Padres' general manager job in 2014. 

In addition to the Giants, McLeod's name has been linked to the Mets' general manager vacancy. This is more speculation, but the point is that it seems to be only a matter of time before McLeod is hired as general manager elsewhere.

For what it's worth, though, McLeod is under contract through 2021 and has previously said that he is grateful to be with the Cubs. 

“I’m exceptionally grateful,” McLeod said. “All of us are. Look at where we are at this moment in time with this team," McLeod said in 2016. "I can’t imagine a better environment, a better culture to work at in baseball.

"We’ve been together a long time. We’re friends. We’re good. We embrace the fact that we are good. And we challenge ourselves to be even better.”

Cubs have new hitting coach in Anthony Iapoce

Cubs have new hitting coach in Anthony Iapoce

The Cubs are heading into a new season with a different hitting coach for the second straight winter, but the most recent choice is a familiar face.

Anthony Iapoce is set to join Joe Maddon's coaching staff this week after serving in the same capacity with the Texas Rangers for the last three seasons. The Cubs confirmed the move Monday afternoon shortly after the news broke out of the Rangers camp.

The Cubs fired Chili Davis last week after just one season as the team's hitting coach.

Entering the final week of the season, the Rangers fired manager Jeff Banister, leaving Iapoce and the rest of the Texas coaching staff in limbo.

As such, Iapoce is rejoining the Cubs, where he served as a special assistant to the General Manager from 2013-15 focusing on player development, particularly in the hitting department throughout the minor leagues.

Iapoce has familiarity with a bunch of the current star offensive players on the Cubs, from Willson Contreras to Kris Bryant. 

Both Bryant and Contreras endured tough 2018 seasons at the plate, which was a huge reason for the Cubs' underperforming lineup. Bryant's issue was more related to a left shoulder injured suffered in mid-May while Contreras' offensive woes remain a major question mark after the young catcher looked to be emerging as a legitimate superstar entering the campaign.

Getting Contreras back to the hitter that put up 21 homers and 74 RBI in only 117 games in 2017 will be one of the main goals for Iapoce, so the history between the two could be a key.

With the Rangers, Iapoce oversaw an offense that ranked 7th, 9th and 14th in MLB in runs scored over the last three seasons. The decline in offensive production is obviously not a great sign, but the Rangers as a team have fallen off greatly since notching the top seed in the AL playoffs in 2016 with 95 wins only to lose 95 games in 2018, resulting in the change at manager.

Iapoce has worked with an offense backed by Adrian Beltre, Elvis Andrus, Shin-Soo Choo, Nomar Mazara and Joey Gallo the last few seasons.

Under Iapoce's tutelage, former top prospect Jurickson Profar shed any notion of a "bust" label and emerged as a budding star at age 25, collecting 61 extra-base hits with a .793 OPS in 2018.

When the Cubs let Davis go last week, they provided no update on assistant hitting coach Andy Haines, who just finished his first season in that role and is expected to remain with the team for 2019. The same offseason Iapoce left for the Rangers, Haines took over as the Cubs' minor league hitting instructor.