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."

Cubs Mailbag: Will Kris Bryant play more at third or in the outfield next year?

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USA TODAY

Cubs Mailbag: Will Kris Bryant play more at third or in the outfield next year?

Some guys pump iron with personal trainers, eat kale salads and recoup in cryotherapy machines to make room for the gluttony of the holidays. Not me. I'm getting into shape for Thanksgiving the old fashioned way - by carrying the weight of some heavy questions from Cubs fans. So, strap on the old feedbag and let's dig right in.

Q: Do you think the Cubs get Harper? - @intensify

Luke Stuckmeyer: First of all, way to intensify the situation. This question might be in every Cubs mailbag we have until Harper finally finds a home. I'll give you my best guess. Bryce can really mash some taters and the Cubs could obviously use another big bat from the left side. I just don't think they are going to dive *that* deep into the holiday spirit. I'll say 75/25 that he ends up somewhere else. I think another team trying to make a splash will spend an insane amount of money to make Harper the face of their franchise. The Cubs already have three of those players in Bryant, Rizzo and Baez.

Q: Will we see Kris Bryant as a 3rd baseman or in the outfield next season? - @kimsrad

LS: Yes and yes. I think Joe Maddon will use Kris Bryant in both places. Expect the Cubs to have a more consistent batting order next year, but the lineup flexibility will continue in the field. I do think Bryant will play more game in LF than he will at 3B. The Cubs have always envisioned this is where Bryant might eventually end up at some point. I'd like to see former Cubs prospect Josh Donaldson return to the franchise via free agency for a few years and let Bryant take over full-time in left. We'll see how free agency unfolds, but regardless I see more outfield games for KB moving forward.

Q: What do you consider more important, a good top of the lineup hitter or a lockdown closer? - @tscott119

LS: Great question! In my opinion these are the two most important needs for the roster this offseason. I'll vote for the closer because a good dessert is always more important to a great meal than a good appetizer. A true lockdown closer helps shorten the game in the postseason and with Morrow's injury concerns, I want to see the bullpen beefed up. Help the starters by shortening the game. That said, leadoff hitter is still the second most important area of need on this team. The Cubs have been trying to find an answer to this riddle since Dexter Fowler left. So, I'd like a helping of each this offseason.

Q: Are the Cubs going to bring Jesse Chavez back? I sure hope so! #Cubs - @LindsTeach1386

LS: This goes perfectly with the last question. "Build the Bullpen" would be one of my themes of the winter and Chavez was terrific in Cubs uniform with a 1.15 ERA. He throws strikes and the Cubs also need that from relievers, too. He's told teammates that if he's not wearing a Cubs uniform next season he hang up the cleats after 11 seasons. I think he'll be back and it shouldn't be "too expensive."

Q: I'm asking Santa for a Schwarber jersey for Christmas. Does the big guy in the red suit need to put in a good for Schwarbs? #Cubs - @mommymack23

LS: For the record, I think Kap usually wears blue suits. I'd ask for the shirsey. Schwarber's name will be mentioned a lot this winter.

Q: Has this era of Cubs players peaked? - @spiceycentipede3

LS: I don't think so. It will be tough to ever top an historic 2016, but I believe there are more championships in this core group. This is still a young team and a healthy Kris Bryant can completely change the lineup. Now, let's see if Javy can take another step after an outstanding season and if Willson Contreras can bounce back as the best catcher in the NL. Theo preaches that player development isn't always linear in baseball. I hope he's right!

Well, that's six questions. One for every heaping helping that this turkey plans to take down on Thanksgiving. Thanks for all the great questions. Have a great and safe holiday next week. 

How Cubs will determine if this is the time to sell — or hold — stock on young players

How Cubs will determine if this is the time to sell — or hold — stock on young players

Do the Cubs envision Ian Happ as a vital piece of their future or the organization's best trade asset?

What about Kyle Schwarber? Albert Almora Jr.? Victor Caratini? 

We might not get surefire answers to these questions this winter, but we'll at least get an indication in a pivotal offseason for this quartet. (The Cubs already know what they have with their other young position players apart from maybe Willson Contreras, but it's nearly impossible to find another catcher in the same stratosphere as Contreras in terms of physical tools and potential).

The Cubs are at a crossroads of sorts with the development of these four players (and others) as they try to retool for another run at a championship in 2019 after a disappointing end to 2018. There's urgency for production in the lineup and not simply potential and the growing pains that coincide with young players.

So how do the Cubs determine if they should sell stock on players like Happ, Schwarber or Almora when it's still unknown who — or what — they are as players?

"Through evaluation and through a lot of discussion with our most trusted evaluators and the people around the players every day," Theo Epstein said last week at the GM Meetings. "And through conversations with the players, too. Honest discussions about their weaknesses.

"I don't want to generalize, but many players follow a path where they come up from the minor leagues and have some immediate success and as the league finds out more about them, the league makes an adjustment. I've never seen a major-league environment that's more ruthless than the one that exists today. We're going right to a player's weakness, quickly finding it, exploiting it and staying there until they adjust back.

"You have to have honest conversations about the area where players need to improve in order to have the types of careers that they want to have in order to help us win the way they want to help us win. And seeing how players react to that and the plans they come up with and the work ethic to make those adjustments and the trace record to make those adjustments — all that stuff really matters."

We know the Cubs don't operate with any "untouchables" (as was reiterated in a very high-profile way over the last week), but that's also all about how important the word value is.

The Cubs have zero interest in selling low on guys like Schwarber, Almora or Happ because those are three players they've held conviction on for years as first-round draft picks to top prospects to impact players in the big leagues. 

But it's also entirely possible another team around the league values Schwarber more than the Cubs do and offer Epstein's front office a deal that's too hard to pass up. Sure, Schwarber's 2018 was something of a disappointment, but he also drastically increased his walk rate, cut down on strikeouts and improved his defense. Oh yeah, and he'll still only be 26 in March.

We could run the same exercise for Almora, Happ and Caratini, but the main takeaway here is that the evaluations of these players are incomplete as they're still very young/inexperienced with potential.

But if the Cubs trade any of those three guys this winter, it's not necessarily an indication of doom for the player. It's more about finding the right time to pull the trigger.

"That's the nature of it," Epstein said. "Trades happen in this game. A lot of times when trades are made, it doesn't mean you've completely given up on a player. A lot of trades are more about what you're receiving back than what you're giving up in the first place."

There's also value for the Cubs in not necessarily selling one of those young players but choosing to get a little more veteran and diverse with a lineup that "broke" in the second half, as Epstein described it.

Due to the inexperience and youth, the Cubs lineup was more prone to slumps. That was highlighted by the trade for (and subsequent playing time of) Daniel Murphy in August. When the veteran hitter was acquired, the Cubs initially intended to utilize him to help augment the lineup on a fairly regular basis, but with the struggles around him, they instead needed to lean on Murphy to play essentially every day.

When it comes down to it, the Cubs just want production — no matter where it comes from.

"We're setting out to add to the personnel, so I guess in that sense, if we come back with the status quo, it means there are a couple things out there that we would've lovd to have done that we couldn't, but that happens," Epstein said. "But I think ultimately, we should be held accountable for our performance, not for the amount of change in the names. And we will be. This group will be.

"In order to keep this thing going with the realities of the business and what happens as players move through the service time structure and escalating salaries and everything else, the time for that talent to translate into performance is now to get the absolute most out of this group. Or else we're going to be looking at some hard realities and the need for a lot of change going forward."