Cubs

Kris Bryant powers Cubs past Clayton Kershaw, Dodgers

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Kris Bryant powers Cubs past Clayton Kershaw, Dodgers

If Kris Bryant is still playing fantasy baseball, he might want to sit pitchers the night he faces them.

The Cubs slugger formed another "notch on his belt" with his first multi-homer game in the big leagues, including a two-run shot off Clayton Kershaw as the Cubs took down the reigning Cy Young winner with a 4-2 victory Monday night in front of 35,147 fans at Wrigley Field.

"It's kind of surreal," Bryant said. "I'm facing guys that were on my fantasy baseball team growing up."

Bryant's home run was also the first off a Kershaw curveball this season. The rookie waited back and went with the two-strike offering for his first career opposite-field blast.

"I was hoping I'd get a curveball, especially with the wind blowing out," Bryant said. "I just tried to put it in the air. I got one, and I did what I was supposed to do.

"(Kershaw is) the best pitcher in the game. I just got a good pitch to hit."

[MORE CUBS: Maddon: Rizzo needs to represent Cubs in All-Star Game]

Kershaw came out of the game after seven innings, and he might have been rattled a bit after a wacky occurrence in the sixth inning. The lights at Wrigley Field went out momentarily, and even when they came back on, several bulbs were out in some lighting docks.

That prompted Cubs manager Joe Maddon to come out of the dugout, and the game was delayed for almost 15 minutes as Maddon stated his case to the umpiring crew.

The game resumed even though all the lights had not come back on yet. But not before Maddon and the Cubs filed an official complaint.

"I didn't like the idea that we had to play against a guy that's really, really, really, really, really, really, really good," Maddon said. "You gotta see spin, you've gotta be able to read everything. I did not like the fact that we had to go out and play without all the lights on.

"Just be a little bit more patient and wait for the lights — that was my argument. I just thought it was inappropriate and I made my case.

"Originally, they said I could not protest, then we kept banging on it, because you can't protest a judgment call. In my opinion, that's not a judgment call. That's not in the book that the umpire can decide whether the lights are good enough or not. That was my contention."

[MORE CUBS: The education of Kyle Schwarber behind the plate]

Kershaw exchanged a few calm words with Maddon at the beginning of the delay, and as the down time wore on, the Dodgers ace started to stalk around the grass between the pitcher's mound and home plate.

He then warmed back up, only to be shut down again when Maddon came back out to file a protest. That led Kershaw into a little argument with the umpires.

"I have no idea (what Kershaw was arguing about)," Maddon said. "Probably that he had to stand out there for at least 15 minutes. I would have argued, too."

Maddon's filibuster worked, as Kershaw surrendered a home run to Matt Szczur — who was just called back up Monday — that gave the Cubs what proved to be a vital insurance run.

Bryant added a solo shot in the eighth inning, a rocket to the left-field seats off Dodgers reliever Adam Liberatore. The Cubs put a live shot of Bryant in the dugout on the video board in left field, and the fans got on their feet for a curtain call.

"That's another first, too," Bryant said. "That was pretty cool to get that reception."

[SHOP CUBS: Get your Cubs gear right here]

Bryant has always seemed to keep his even-keeled demeanor no matter what happens. Shrugging his shoulders and showing off his "aw shucks" smile is as much as he'd let himself outwardly celebrate his big night.

"I love the way he approaches the day, man," Maddon said. "You see he hits the home run, they force him to go out for the curtain call, but he comes back in, gives you a nice high five like, 'I'm gonna do this again.' I really like the way he handles all that."

Bryant had actually been struggling coming into the game, in the middle of an 0-for-14 stretch that saw him go hitless during the three-game series in Minnesota. Before Monday, he had hit just one home run in the last 22 games, and that longball came off a position player in the 17-0 blowout in Cleveland on Wednesday.

"It's a game of peaks and valleys, and I was on a valley," Bryant said. "I just went into the game telling myself I'm due and I'm due for a big game. And I got it.

"You just always gotta think that way in this game. It's crazy. It's so easy to get down on yourself. But those are the types of runs that make you the type of player you're going to be. I'm glad I came out of it tonight."

Maddon said guys like Bryant "always get clumpy with homers," and the Cubs manager hopes the rookie is on another one of those hot stretches, like when Bryant hit seven homers in 17 games in May.

"I have so much faith in him," Maddon said. "When a guy that good goes through a drought like that, it takes one. The home run he hit in Cleveland was against a position player, but I still was good with that. Because he felt it again, he felt the swing path and hit the ball to dead center field.

"He's going to continue to ascend. There's no doubt in my mind."

How Ian Happ got his groove back at the plate

How Ian Happ got his groove back at the plate

There's a legit case to be made that Ian Happ has been the Cubs' second-best hitter in 2018.

Yes, really.

Happ ranks second on the Cubs in OPS (.895), behind only Kris Bryant (.995) among regulars, though a recent hot streak has buoyed that overall bottom line for Happ.

Still, it's been a pretty incredible hot streak and it's propelled Happ back to where he began the season — at the top of the Cubs order. 

Happ has walked 10 times in the last 6 games and hammered out 3 homers in that span, including one on top of the Schwarboard in right field as a pinch-hitter Tuesday night.

Even more jaw-dropping: He's only struck out 5 times in the last 9 games after a dreadful start to the season in that regard.

"It was just a matter of time until things clicked a little bit," Happ said. "That's why we play 162 games and it's a game of adjustments. At the end of the day, it all evens out.

"Look at the back of Tony [Rizzo's] baseball card — it's the same thing every single year. That's how this thing goes. You're gonna have your ups and your downs and I'm just trying to be as consistent as I can. If I can level it out a little bit and be more consistent over a period of time, that'll be better for our team."

So yes, Happ is on the upswing right now and he'll inevitably have more slumps where he strikes out too much and looks lost at the plate.

Such is life for a 23-year-old who is still a week away from his 162nd career MLB game.

The league had adjusted to Happ and he had to adjust back, which he'd been working hard doing behind the scenes.

"I just try to get him to primarily slow things down," Joe Maddon said. "Try to get him back into left-center. And I did not want to heap a whole lot of at-bats on him. When you're not going good, if you heap too many at-bats on somebody, all of a sudden, that's really hard to dig out of that hole.

"So a lot of conversations — a lot of conversations — but nothing complicated. I like to go the simple side of things. I wanted him to try not to lift the ball intentionally, really organize his strike zone."

Maddon believes Happ had lost sight of his strike zone organization, chasing too many pitches out of the zone — particularly the high fastball.

Now, the Cubs manager sees Happ using his hands more and less of his arms in his swing, working a more precise, compact path to the ball.

The Happ experiment at leadoff was a disaster to begin the year — .186 AVG, .573 OPS and 22 strikeouts in 10 starts there — but all the same tools and rationale exist for why Maddon likes the switch-hitting utiliy player in that spot.

And that's why Happ was leading off Wednesday with both Ben Zobrist and Albert Almora Jr. getting the night off.

"We're gonna find out [if he can stick at leadoff]," Maddon said. "I just thought he's looked better. He's coming off a nice streak on the road trip. [Tuesday night], pinch-hitting. I know the home run's great and of course that's nice.

"But how he got to the pitch that he hit out, to me, was the important thing. Got the two strikes, took the two borderline pitches and then all of a sudden, [the pitcher] came in with a little bit more and he didn't miss it.

"That's the big thing about hitting well, too — when you see your pitch, you don't either take it or foul it off. You don't miss it. He didn't miss it."

Baseball Night in Chicago Podcast: Who has more fun on the diamond, Javier Baez or Yolmer Sanchez?

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USA TODAY

Baseball Night in Chicago Podcast: Who has more fun on the diamond, Javier Baez or Yolmer Sanchez?

Ozzie Guillen and David DeJesus join Leila Rahimi on Wednesday's podcast. After Tuesday's game-winning hit and second self-inflicted Gatorade bath the guys wonder if anyone has more fun on the field than Yolmer Sanchez. Jim DeShaies joins the conversation and brings Javy Baez to the table.

Plus, Manny Mania continues to swirl in Chicago. Finally, what should be the White Sox plan for calling up their top prospects?

Listen to the full Baseball Night in Chicago Podcast right here: