MILWAUKEE – Kris Bryant, the National League's reigning MVP, notched three hits to raise his .063 average 119 points on Saturday night and drove in his first three runs this season. The All-Star third baseman ended the sixth inning by charging Nick Franklin's bunt and finishing the barehanded play with a strong throw across the field.
Yet Bryant still felt the need to apologize for making the first out in the eighth inning at home plate, because third base coach Gary Jones had told him to run only if Anthony Rizzo's groundball bounced past the Milwaukee Brewers' drawn-in infield.
"KB actually made a mistake running the bases," manager Joe Maddon said after an 11-6 win at a Miller Park awash in Cubbie blue. "You know what, though, when he does, he comes right up and says: ‘I made a mistake.' It's so refreshing that they know when they screw up. You don't have to go get them. They know when they mess up and they're highly accountable.
"That's what I'm talking about when I'm talking about the core guys. Yeah, they're good, but they're more than good as baseball players. They're just solid. And that's why they've been able to accomplish what they have in a short period of time."
The Cubs have so much talent that Kyle Hendricks started last year's World Series Game 7 and began this season as the No. 5 starter. On a team with this much star power and personality, Hendricks can lead the majors in ERA and become a Cy Young Award finalist and still kind of blend into the background.
The defending World Series champs showed a sellout crowd of 43,080 how many different ways they have to win. Hendricks didn't have the usual feel for his fastballs – or the same sharpness with his changeup and curveball – in his first outing since March 31. It didn't really matter, either, because Hendricks could pitch like this all year and become a 20-game winner.
The Cubs scored 800-plus runs last season and might have a more explosive offense with Kyle Schwarber hitting leadoff and all the other young guys being a year older and more experienced. The Cubs played defense at a historic level last season and might be better up the middle now with Javier Baez taking over at second base and Albert Almora Jr. flying in and out from center field. A full season of a healthy Wade Davis should change the entire complexion of the bullpen.
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So Hendricks could take a deep breath when the Brewers scored two runs before he got his first out of the 2017 season. Hendricks could retire 10 in a row and exhale again after walking Kirk Nieuwenhuis and watching Franklin blast a game-tying, two-run homer onto a right-center field patio deck in the fourth inning.
The Cubs generated 17 hits against a journeyman starter (Tommy Milone) and a rebuilding pitching staff. A "Let's go, Cubbies!" chant started in the eighth inning after Willson Contreras lined a bases-loaded double into left-center field, flipped his bat toward the Milwaukee dugout and sprinted to second base.
"We knew it was a matter of time," said Hendricks, who chipped in with two hits, an RBI and a run scored while going six innings to earn the win (while four earned runs pushed his ERA to 6.00). "You can't hold this offense down for very long. It's good to see them get rolling, and now hopefully we can just go from here."
Team "D-Peat" believes defense should never go into slumps. On a nightly basis, the Cubs make highlight-reel plays look routine. Almora ended the fifth inning by racing in from center field to make a sliding catch, popping back up with a smile on his face and slapping Schwarber's hand after robbing Travis Shaw, Milwaukee's No. 3 hitter.
All this on a night that saw another World Series contender call up a spot fifth starter from Triple-A Syracuse. The Washington Nationals watched Jeremy Guthrie get two outs and give up 10 runs in a 17-3 football-score loss to the Philadelphia Phillies at Citizens Bank Park.
After the final out here on Saturday night, the white W flags popped up all over Miller Park. One more game in Milwaukee and the Cubs will get to return home and hear the roar at Wrigley Field, see the World Series banner go up and get their championship rings. You might even see a reaction from the unflappable superstar who wants more.
"I realize that this is part of being a big-leaguer," Bryant said, "to deal with the 0-for-12s and the 0-for-13s and the bad stretches and just knowing that it's going to turn around, because it always does. It's part of a learning process. I'm planting the seeds to keep learning, and taking notes in the back of my head."