Cubs

Kris Bryant Watch can wait after Cubs complete dramatic comeback win

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Kris Bryant Watch can wait after Cubs complete dramatic comeback win

DENVER — There’s always some sort of drama around this team.

That’s how one Cubs employee accurately summed it up before Sunday’s 6-5 comeback victory over the Colorado Rockies in front of 41,363 at Coors Field.

Dexter Fowler changed the mood with one swing in the ninth inning, launching a two-out, two-run homer beyond the right-field wall and into the second deck. LaTroy Hawkins — who was a guest at Fowler’s wedding a couple of years ago — had been one strike away from ending the game.

Fowler crushed Hawkins’ slider/cutter and got some revenge against his old team. Kris Bryant Watch can wait. The Cubs swear they’re not even paying attention.

[MORE CUBS: Can Jon Lester slow down Billy Hamilton?]

The Cubs left Denver to return home to the Wrigley Field construction zone, where the business-operations side had to bring in 72 porta-potties last week after the Opening Night bathroom lines became a national embarrassment.

It took less than five innings before the Boston/Bristol axis of media had Chicago reporters asking if Jon Lester has “the yips,” one start into a six-year, $155 million megadeal. It won’t get any easier with Cincinnati Reds speedster Billy Hamilton up next.

Bryant is still the trending topic, with the franchise’s hottest name and arguably most dangerous hitter stuck at Triple-A Iowa. Cubs fans will have to wait at least four more days as Bryant does his service-time penance before making his debut in The Show.

“That’s for them to keep talking about,” Fowler said. “That’s social media, man.”

[MORE CUBS: It's up to the union to change Cubs/Kris Bryant situation]

Bryant homered again during Iowa’s 7-2 win on Sunday at Memphis. As ex-Cubs manager Dale Sveum once said: “Those twits never lie.”

New Cubs manager Joe Maddon, who has 227,000 Twitter followers, made it sound like he didn’t know Bryant homered on Saturday night until a reporter mentioned it during his media session.

“Nice,” Maddon said. “Good for him.”

Maddon had to worry about Mike Olt, who got drilled in the wrist with a 96-mph fastball the night before but felt good enough to pinch-hit on Sunday afternoon. Tommy La Stella — another guy in the third-base mix until Bryant arrives — was unavailable with a strained “side” injury the Cubs left pretty vague.

“I don’t really pay attention to any of that (Bryant) stuff,” Maddon said. “I’ve talked about it before: My responsibility is the people right here, right now, and trying to piece it together.”

[MORE CUBS: Cubs see Dexter Fowler becoming the catalyst for their offense]

Maddon keeps stressing the idea that this isn’t about any one person, whether it’s Baseball America’s No. 1 prospect (Bryant) or a $52 million pitcher going to the bullpen (Edwin Jackson) or a No. 3 catcher waiting his turn (Welington Castillo).

The Cubs had been 0-79 when trailing entering the ninth inning in 2014. Castillo delivered a clutch two-out, pinch-hit RBI single in the ninth, setting the stage for Fowler’s heroics. Four relievers — Jason Motte, Phil Coke, Neil Ramirez and Hector Rondon — combined for 4 2/3 scoreless innings to bail out Kyle Hendricks and shut down the Rockies (4-2).

“Honestly, I don’t think we win this last year,” Hendricks said. “(It’s) just the confidence factor, all the new guys coming in here with the winning attitude, the winning ways. These guys know how to win. And it just showed right there. I think there’s going to be a lot of those this year.”

The Cubs (3-2) hadn’t been above .500 since April 4, 2013. They were also a game over .500 by late April 2011. They never had a winning record at any point during the 2010, 2012 and 2014 seasons.

[SHOP CUBS: Get your Cubs gear right here]

But as another Cubs person pointed out: It’s never boring around here. Bryant as the headliner — and all the great expectations surrounding this team now — guarantees that.

“I’m really not paying attention to that,” catcher Miguel Montero said. “I’m paying attention to what we have right here. I know the kid is good. Don’t get me wrong. We’d like to see him in the big leagues. But right now, he’s not.

“I’ve got to care about these guys right now, because ... we got to get the best out of this (group). It’s not that I’m not rooting for him right now, but he’s not here. I can’t really focus on Double-A, Triple-A. I can’t be wasting energy on that.”

Bryant who?

“It was entirely a team victory,” Maddon said. “Our pitchers did a wonderful job of not caving in. And our offense did a wonderful job of just not giving up.

“I love when you win that kind of game, on the road, utilizing everybody. It’s really good for esprit de corps.”

How the Cubs are trying to help Kris Bryant out of his slump

How the Cubs are trying to help Kris Bryant out of his slump

Whatever Kris Bryant does from here, it's just frosting on the cake that is his legacy.

That's one way to look at the lasting impact of a guy like Bryant, who morphed from "The Chosen One" as the No. 2 overall pick. He's lived up to the hype from Day 1, has a Rookie of the Year and NL MVP Award in his trophy case and — most importantly of all — led the Cubs to their first World Series championship in 108 years.

A slump in May and June of 2018 won't tarnish that legacy.

But you can also forgive Cubs fans if they're growing a little antsy with their stud player. 

Just rest easy that he's growing a little antsy, too.

After chronicling his "temper tantrums" and actually admitting he gets so angry he is prone to breaking bats in frustration (still find that really hard to believe) last week, Bryant still isn't quite over his slump.

Maybe he's just simply trying to do too much right now.

"Kris is fine," Jon Lester said. "I mean, I think anytime you have a guy like that, he's got such high expectations not only of himself but the other people outside of the baseball world.

"I think he feels that — he feels pressure from his teammates, he feels pressure from himself and he wants to perform and he wants to do well every night. When he doesn't, it seems like he just keeps adding on. The rock on his back gets a little bigger every time."

As recently as May 22, Bryant was hitting .303 with a 1.007 OPS.

But since then — a span of 21 games — he's hitting just .241 with a .316 on-base percentage and .310 slugging percentage, good for a .627 OPS. More alarming than anything, he's struck out 28 times in 87 at-bats, taking a step back in the area he has made the most improvement in since breaking into the league in 2015.

The power has been an issue for even longer. Bryant just recently went a month without a homer before sending one into the bleachers Friday night at Busch Stadium.

Still, since May 15, he has only 8 extra-base hits (7 doubles and that 1 homer) in 27 games.

The struggle is real right now, but that hasn't stopped the Cubs from going 17-11 during Bryant's dip in power.

GM Jed Hoyer reiterated again that Bryant is the last guy the Cubs worry about in the big picture.

"The way he runs the bases, the way he plays defense, I feel like he's contributing to wins even when he might be struggling at the plate a little bit," Hoyer said Monday evening. "With guys like him, I always look at it and think to myself — that means a hot streak is right around the corner.

"I said that about Anthony [Rizzo] in April when he was struggling and he's been great since May 1. I think Kris will have the same kind of turnaraound. With him, it's just a matter of when he breaks out.

"Over the course of the season, every great player goes through one or two big slumps. We're in a strange sport where even the greatest players are not slump-proof. He'll get out of it and we'll all reap the benefits when he does."

Even with the struggles, Bryant ranks 23rd among position players in WAR (Fangraphs) with 2.3, pacing the Cubs in that category. That still puts him on pace for a roughly 6-WAR pace, which would be his lowest throughout his MLB career but is still very clearly elite.

In an effort to get him back to the "KB" we've seen so much over the last four years, Joe Maddon has twice resorted to bumping him to the top of the lineup, including Monday night's game against the Dodgers.

Maddon is hoping a move to the leadoff spot will reinstill in Bryant's head that he doesn't need to be a power hitter to help the team win.

For right now, it works. After all, Bryant is still tied for 9th in baseball in OBP (.389). 

"You really do start trying too hard," Maddon said. "You try to force things as opposed to letting them come to you. Especially a power guy that's not hit home runs in a bit. My take on power guys is that it normally is cyclical. They'll get it for a while, then they'll get away with it, then it comes back."

Like Hoyer, Maddon talked up Bryant's abilities as a "winning player" in every other area of the game even when he's not going yard. That includes his daily hustle and effort.

"When a guy like him goes through this moment, I want him to focus on that — not homers," Maddon said. "He probably hears that way too much about the power situation and I'm really not interested in that. 

"Put him back in the leadoff spot for the reasons I just said — he can help win a game in so many different ways and I want him to just focus on that. ... He needs our support; he's gonna get it. I just put him in that top spot to readjust how he's thinking and that's all."

SportsTalk Live Podcast: Are we seeing a playoff preview between the Cubs and Dodgers?

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USA TODAY

SportsTalk Live Podcast: Are we seeing a playoff preview between the Cubs and Dodgers?

Kap is joined by Doug Glanville, Nick Friedell, and Seth Gruen. The guys preview the NLCS rematch at Wrigley between the Cubs and Dodgers, discuss Kris Bryant's return to the leadoff spot, and consider the possibility of a 6-man rotation upon Darvish's return from the DL.

Plus, the guys weigh in on the Bulls' options in the NBA Draft on Thursday.

Listen to the full SportsTalk Live podcast here