Cubs expect Kris Bryant to rebound with a 'monster' season in 2019

Cubs expect Kris Bryant to rebound with a 'monster' season in 2019

Get ready for a new and improved Kris Bryant in 2019.

After a trying 2018 campaign, the Cubs are hoping the former NL MVP can turn in a "monster" rebound season next year.

Sure, talk is cheap with these types of things, but Bryant been a different mold. Bet against him at your own risk. 

"I personally believe after sitting down with Kris after the way that he handled this year that he never really got back fully to what he can be," Cubs president of baseball operations Theo Epstein said at his end-of-season press conference at Wrigley Field, "that this is someone that will put in the work necessary — physically, fundamentally, mentally, all phases — to have a monster year next year with what he learned this year." 

As of right now, Bryant won't need offseason surgery on that ailing left shoulder that hampered him for the final 4.5 months of the season.

He injured it on a head-first slide into first base in mid-May and wound up missing nearly 60 games between two separate stints on the disabled list. 

By the time he came back Sept. 1, Bryant had reworked the finish of his swing so that he kept both hands on the bat instead of letting go with his right hand and putting a ton of stress on that left shoulder.

Bryant rarely used that two-handed finish in game action over the final month, but he is utilizing it during his practice swings to help reduce the wear and tear on the joint.

Following the Cubs' heart-wrenching 13-inning loss in the National League Wild-Card Game, Bryant refused to make any excuses about his shoulder, brushing off any notion that he was physically unable to perform at the level we've all come to expect from him.

As he stood at his locker, Bryant's eyes welled up while he talked about the emotions and disappointment of the way the team's year ended.

"I'm taking this really hard," he said. "It's really tough."

He also felt like he deserved a lot of the blame for the Cubs scoring only 1 run in 13 innings against the Rockies.

"I missed a couple pitches that I could've done plenty of damage with and I missed 'em," he said. "You're always gonna look back on the things that you thought you could do better and that's where I'm at right now.

"There's plenty of things that I thought I could've done better and that's why I'm so hard on myself. I care so much. That's why this stings a little extra. It's not fun."

Bryant talked broadly about his entire season, saying it "definitely was not up to my standards" and explained how motivated he is to make sure this doesn't happen again.

From May 15 through the end of the season, Bryant played in just 68 games (65 starts) and hit only 5 homers with a .751 OPS.

His .398 slugging percentage ranked 203rd in baseball over that stretch, behind such players as Detroit's Jose Iglesias and Tampa Bay's Mallex Smith. (For perspective, those two guys have hit just 28 homers combined in 950 career MLB games.)

Epstein believes we'll all look back at 2018 as the worst year of Bryant's career.

"With the offseason of rest and getting a full winter's worth of work in, he's gonna be 100 percent and better than ever," Epstein said. "...He is taking a really positive approach to it where he's learned a lot from the time that he missed.

"This is a guy who played every single game in high school, I think every single inning in college and just about every single game the first three years of his career and this is the first time he's really dealt with injury and adversity. He's challenging himself and we're challenging him to make something positive out of it."

Bryant shared the same sentiment as Epstein, feeling that he's learned a lot that he can carry over to the rest of his career.

It wasn't just the awkward slide that affected his shoulder. When the issue first popped up publicly, Bryant admitted he aggravated his shoulder because he took extra swings while trying to break out of his hitting slump.

The Cubs medical staff has given him a bunch of exercises already to continue to help build up strength in that left shoulder over the offseason...though Bryant didn't think the offseason would come so soon.

He wasn't ready for the Cubs to be done by Oct. 3 so he doesn't have a set plan yet for the winter, but wants to take just a few days off before getting back into the cage to work on his swing again.

Bryant didn't have any answers for why the Cubs lineup struggled with inconsistency throughout the season, but he's taking personal ownership at rectifying the issue before spring training.

"We'd love to go out there and hit better with runners in scoring position, square the ball up more," Bryant said. "But we just didn't do that. It's frustrating. I don't have an answer to it. It's making me more motivated to figure out a way to figure it out.

"That's how I've always been my whole life, whether it be baseball or school work or playing Monopoly or whatever. I'm always gonna find a way to get better at it. This year didn't go the way I wanted it to personally, but I think it's when you're in your low points and the lowest of the low where you build character and you learn the most.

"I've learned a lot about myself this year and the exciting part for me is to be able to apply that for the rest of my career."

Why Cubs’ Alec Mills became first pitcher to hit since MLB added universal DH

Why Cubs’ Alec Mills became first pitcher to hit since MLB added universal DH

Thursday’s Cubs-Royals game was one-sided, with Kansas City taking an early lead and never looking back in a 13-2 victory. Despite the loss, the Cubs made some history in the ninth inning.

Cubs pitcher Alec Mills became the first hurler to have a plate appearance since Major League Baseball implemented a universal DH. 

“I told him to look intimidating and I think he did,” Cubs manager David Ross said with a smile after the game.

The Cubs forfeited the DH in their lineup in the seventh inning, when they moved Victor Caratini (Thursday’s starting DH) to first base and Ian Happ from first to right field among several innings worth of moves that emptied their bench.

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With the DH gone, reliever Dan Winkler entered the lineup in the seventh in place of Cubs right fielder Jason Heyward, a move Ross said postgame was to get Heyward off his feet. When that spot came up in the ninth, Ross sent Mills to the plate. He struck out looking, as Ross asked him not to swing.

“Alec was fine with going up there. I asked him not to swing,” Ross said. “Every part of my being knows that’s probably the wrong thing to do, is take the competitiveness out of a player. He’s been pitching so well for us; I don’t want anything dumb to happen in that type of game.”

Reds two-way player Michael Lorenzen is the only pitcher credited with entering a game on offense this season. He pinch ran on July 26.


Cubs quick takes: Tyler Chatwood rocked, Cubs rolled by Royals

Cubs quick takes: Tyler Chatwood rocked, Cubs rolled by Royals

Tyler Chatwood for closer? Um, hold that thought.

The bigger issue for the Cubs’ right-hander on Thursday night in Kansas City was that after two impressive starts to open the season, he took less than three innings to look like the rotation’s weak link.

That might sound harsh in a long season, but it’s not a long season. And the rotation was far and away the Cubs’ strength during a 10-2 start — including a six-game winning streak that went up in the smoke of Thursday’s blowout loss.

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Quick takes from that 13-2 loss:


How bad was the worst start of the season so far for the rotation?

The eight runs Chatwood (2-1) allowed not only exceeded the number of outs he recorded (seven) on this night, but also were twice as many as the rotation allowed total during the six-game winning streak — which included 39 2/3 innings by the starters.

"The stuff looks fine from the side," manager David Ross said. "Just one of those nights."

Chatwood didn’t walk a batter, but he was rocked for 11 hits worth of hard contact, including two-run homers by Whit Merrifield in the second and Maikel Franco in the third, and four doubles.

"I made good pitches; they hit them. I made bad pitches; they hit them," Chatwood said. "I think my stuff was all still there, maybe not as sharp as I wanted to be with the sinker. But I still feel good. I feel like I was attacking, trying to execute a game plan and gave up hits on good pitches and bad pitches."

Q and A?

A few hours before Chatwood took the mound, Jose Quintana took a big step closer to returning from his thumb injury to rejoin the rotation — using all his pitches in a 35-pitch, two-inning game simulation in South Bend.

Barring a setback, he’ll extend during another sim game Tuesday and could be scheduled for his return soon after that.

That’s where starts like Chatwood’s on Thursday start coming into play when the Cubs start looking for the right arm to move to the bullpen when Quintana is back.

"Coming into this game this guy was one of our best pitchers," Ross said of Chatwood. "This guy was dealing. You're gonna have some nights that things just don't go your way. They took advantage of the mistakes he made. That's just baseball."

Speaking of the bullpen…

The Cubs couldn’t have picked a worse day for a short-start clunker in the early part of the season.

Thursday was roster cut-down day, when the Cubs sent relievers Rex Brothers and Justin Steele to the alternate site in South Bend to reduce the overall roster to 28, which now includes nine relievers.

Four were used to cover nearly six innings of work Thursday, although only Duane Underwood Jr. (13 batters, 51 pitches) is certain to be unavailable when the Cubs open a three-game series in St. Louis on Friday. In fact, Ryan Tepera needed only 15 pitches in a four-up, four-down performance.

Perhaps most noteworthy was the mopup eighth that struggling closer Craig Kimbrel pitched, opening the inning by allowing a triple, walk and single before retiring the final three he faced.

Bats out of hell?

Even if Chatwood had kept it close, the Cubs’ winning streak might have been in jeopardy because of the way Royals starter Brad Keller looked in his return to the rotation after having tested positive for COVID-19 last month.

Last year’s Opening Day starter for the Royals made quick work of the Cubs in five innings pitched — striking out seven and limiting the Cubs to three singles and two walks.

By the fifth, the Cubs started pulling the regulars from the lineup with the score 9-0.

By the end of the two-run ninth, Cubs pitcher Alec Mills took a turn as a pinch-hitter.

Where they stand 

With the loss, the Cubs' record drops to 10-3. But the Twins, who shared the best record in the league with the Cubs, also lost on Thursday. (The Marlins are 6-1).

On deck

The Cubs head to St. Louis for a three-game series. The Cardinals are set to return to the field after 13 players and staff members tested positive for COVID-19, prompting the postponement of their four-game series against Detroit this week.