Cubs

Kris Bryant’s MVP performance leads Cubs to comeback win at Dodger Stadium

Kris Bryant’s MVP performance leads Cubs to comeback win at Dodger Stadium

LOS ANGELES – The “MVP! MVP! MVP!” chants started at Dodger Stadium late Friday night, Cubs fans celebrating Kris Bryant’s two-run homer in the 10th inning and cheering on this entertaining comeback win.

Until Clayton Kershaw returns to full strength, stares down hitters from 60 feet, six inches and unleashes his entire arsenal, it’s impossible to know how the Cubs would stack up against Los Angeles in October. But it’s still safe to say this would be an epic playoff matchup between two big-market, star-studded franchises, with two iconic ballparks becoming the backdrop, celebrity row after celebrity row.

As a quiet homebody who happens to have his own billboards and marketing deals – but doesn’t do bulletin-board quotes or brag about his game – Bryant is not exactly a Hollywood personality. But this is also a goal-oriented individual who doesn’t shy away from the pressure and the expectations and absolutely wants to be the best at his craft.

The Cubs won this round with Bryant, who launched his 34th and 35th home runs in a 6-4 victory, an MVP-worthy season becoming the sequel to his Rookie of the Year campaign.

“It’s humbling,” Bryant said. “You grow up hearing that kind of stuff on TV. To experience it in real life is pretty cool.”

It became hard to hear Bryant inside the visiting clubhouse, because teammates chanted “MVP!” and sung along with Snoop Dogg and Dr. Dre as “Nuthin But a G Thang” played on the sound system. But for most of the night, it looked like it would be a silent room postgame as the resilient Dodgers took 3-1 and 4-2 leads.

Until the eighth inning, when Bryant launched a home run off Joe Blanton that landed in the center-field seats blocked off for the batter’s eye. And then the ninth inning showed why manager Joe Maddon will want Gold Glove outfielder Jason Heyward in a playoff lineup.

In the middle of a frustrating offensive season where he’s felt the weight of a $184 million contract, Heyward led off by ripping a double into the right-field corner off Dodgers closer Kenley Jansen. Heyward hustled to third base when new Dodgers catcher Carlos Ruiz couldn’t handle strike three against Jorge Soler. Heyward ran home to score the game-tying run when a Jansen wild pitch sailed toward the backstop.

That set the stage for Bryant, who brought up the fielding error he made in the fifth inning during his postgame interview on Channel 7 after hitting the game-winning homer off lefty Adam Liberatore. All-Star first baseman Anthony Rizzo may set the tone in the clubhouse, but Bryant already brings tunnel vision and a high degree of professionalism to an 82-45 team, even at the age of 24. 

“He just doesn’t quit,” Heyward said. “He wants to be in every spot. He goes up there and has his at-bat – and that’s it.

“You can talk about why he’s been hitting the ball well, this and that, but he has a good approach. It’s that simple. Other than that, he works his tail off every day to try and go out there and help us win.

“When you have that gift – and you have that work ethic – the bottom line is a lot of good things can happen.”

[SHOP: Gear up, Cubs fans!]

A resourceful $250 million team won’t fade away, even with Kershaw (back) not pitching for two months, one of 27 players the Dodgers have stashed on the disabled list, tying a major-league record. Los Angeles has cycled through 14 different starting pitchers, relying on depth, a powerful lineup and a strong bullpen to surge into first place and hold onto a one-game lead over the San Francisco Giants in the National League West.

“How about last year?” Maddon said. “We beat up on the Mets during the season, we go (into the playoffs) and we can’t even touch them. It’s such a different animal. People get hot or people get cold.

“I’m not going to diminish the fact I’m going to be paying attention. But things change. Trends can be so trendy, to quote Yogi. So I don’t get too far ahead, because things can change very quickly.”

Like Bryant going from a promising player with a few holes in his swing who looked worn down at times last season – to an MVP frontrunner with a .303 average, 89 RBI, 107 runs scored, a .982 OPS and the versatility to play third base, defensively shift across the infield and move to the outfield.

Kershaw vs. Bryant would be must-see TV in October.

Jon Lester will return from the IL on Thursday and start against the Dodgers

Jon Lester will return from the IL on Thursday and start against the Dodgers

As expected, Jon Lester will return from the injured list and start Thursday's game, the Cubs confirmed Wednesday afternoon. 

Lester will get the ball in the series finale against the visiting Los Angeles Dodgers.

Lester injured his left hamstring running the bases in the second inning of the Cubs' home opener on April 8. Prior to that, he turned in a quality start in each of his first two outings of the season.

The 35-year-old has been working out at Wrigley Field throughout the homestand, including a 45-pitch simulated game Saturday. 

The Cubs jumbled their rotation over the weekend, starting Tyler Chatwood on Sunday even though Jose Quintana was on regular rest. Chatwood had a fantastic outing Sunday and Quintana followed Tuesday night with one of his best starts in a Cubs uniform. 

Joe Maddon said Chatwood could possibly serve as a piggyback to Lester's start, as the Cubs are expecting about 75 pitches from the veteran southpaw Thursday.

"Realistically, I'd say 75 — almost like what we had set up for Chatwood the other day," Maddon said. "How he gets to that number - is it stressful? Is it not stressful? Does he have to leave the mound a lot on different plays? When he hits a double, how hard does he run to second base? Those kinds of things. We'll just monitor all of that. I'm saying 75-80 sounds like the right kind of number."

Cole Hamels threw Wednesday night and Lester will close out the series against a high-powered Dodgers offense that struggles a bit more against lefties than right-handers. Kyle Hendricks, Yu Darvish and Quintana will go in the three games in Arizona over the weekend.

2019 MLB Power Rankings: The Cubs are back! And the White Sox are treading water!

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NBC Sports Chicago

2019 MLB Power Rankings: The Cubs are back! And the White Sox are treading water!

With another's week worth of games behind us, things don't look too much different around baseball. The beefy, 1st place Mariners are still beefy and in 1st place. The Cubs pitching renaissance can't be stopped, and there's already booing and infighting in Philadelphia.  If this is just how this season's going to go, gotta say, very here for it. As for the other 27 teams, here's how their weeks played out: 

CLICK HERE FOR MLB POWER RANKINGS 7.0 

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