Cubs

Cubs laugh off concern over offensive woes

Cubs laugh off concern over offensive woes

ST. LOUIS — What is wrong with the Cubs offense? Is Kris Bryant broken? Is it time to start getting concerned about the Cubs' lack of power?

Those questions have been bouncing around Cubdom the last 72 hours, including here in this space.

The Cubs laughed those issues off before Friday's 13-5 win and then went out and smacked the Cardinals to the tune of 13 runs and 14 hits.

After going a month without a homer, Bryant deposited one into the left-centerfield bleachers in the third inning.

This came after Bryant received a "spa day" Wednesday in Milwaukee, where he was kept out of the starting lineup and didn't even pinch-hit late in a game the Cubs lost just 1-0. Couple that with Thursday's regularly schedule off-day and the Cubs' top hitter had two full days to recharge.

"Yeah, I always like it when he gives us a day off leading into an off-day," Bryant said. "But, sometimes, it's just a mental break that gets you going and gets you back on the right track. Because this season is so long. Coming to the field every day can get monotonous, so anytime you can get a little break, it's huge."

Bryant's big day at the plate (2 hits, 4 RBI) also proved Jed Hoyer right.

The Cubs GM met with the media about three hours before Bryant's blast, giving the Cubs superstar a big vote of confidence.

"He's sort of the least of our concerns," Hoyer said. "He's so steady. I think when he does go through a slump, we all react because we're not used to it.

"But I think mentally, he's pretty even keel. I'm sure he has his moments of frustration but we have no doubt he'll get back to where he normally is. To me, that's a great thing.

"We know that we're kinda due some pretty big hot streaks from some guys and the offense will trend up as that happens."

That last part came true beyond just Bryant. 

Kyle Schwarber hadn't homered since June 1 and only had 4 blasts since April 26 but he followed Bryant's lead and drilled a 465-foot shot into the batter's eye in center field for a three-run shot.

This thing was flat-out murdered:

Ian Happ got the offense going in the second inning with a solo shot. The Cubs managed just 1 homer over the last week of action entering Friday but wound up with 2 in the third inning alone.

The Cubs entered the game without a run scored since Monday and saw only Jason Heyward, Anthony Rizzo and Ben Zobrist really performing even or above offensive expectations presently.

Bryant and Schwarber were struggling while Javy Baez, Albert Almora Jr. and Ian Happ had cooled off a bit of late. Addison Russell and Willson Contreras continued to find their way on base over the last couple of weeks but still boast underwhelming power numbers overall.

The Cubs didn't solve all of their offensive woes Friday at Busch Stadium and it's just one game. But 14 hits, 5 walks, 13 runs and 3 homers can do an awful lot to ease the pressure off guys individually and the lineup as a whole.

"I think we just played a pretty complete game offensively tonight," Joe Maddon said. "That's what we're striving to do. I want homers, I want singles, I want moving the runners, I want good bunts, I want playing offense. We did it tonight."

Almost every starter can go to bed Friday night feeling good about their performance. Bryant homered and drove in 4 runs. Happ and Schwarber each homered. Rizzo had 3 hits and a walk. Almora had 3 hits. Russell had 3 hits, a walk and a lineout to right field. 

And the best example it was a good night for the Cubs offensively: Baez walked. TWICE. Both unintentional.

"Magnificent," Maddon said. "I was calling for the ball after the first one. After the second ball, that one's going right to Cooperstown." 

Kris Bryant's 'fatigued' shoulder looms over Cubs, but they insist there's no cause for concern

Kris Bryant's 'fatigued' shoulder looms over Cubs, but they insist there's no cause for concern

This obviously isn't where the Cubs or Kris Bryant wanted to be heading into the final week of the regular season.

Instead of talking about Bryant's level of play or the Cubs' second straight decisive win on the South Side, the 2016 NL MVP stood near his locker, entertaining more questions about his sore left shoulder while he watched Tiger Woods lock up a victory at the Tour Championship.

Bryant did not suit up for the Cubs Sunday, out with what his manager Joe Maddon called "fatigue." 

"His shoulder's just a little bit fatigued. Not hurting, just fatigued," Maddon said before the Cubs' 6-1 victory. "So you want to be proactive. You can wait 'til tomorrow [to give him a day off], but then if you wait 'til tomorrow and something were to happen today, I'd feel really badly about that. 

"So just talking to him, listening to him and his body, we're gonna give him today off."

Maddon later described Bryant's shoulder "fatigue" as a lack of strength given the superstar has missed essentially two months of action due to the injury.

Maddon acknowledged the Cubs may play things safe with Bryant and keep him out of the lineup Monday, too, but would leave that up to the player.

Bryant insisted he will be in the lineup, telling the group of reporters several times that he already told Maddon he would be ready to go for the first ame of the homestand Monday night at Wrigley Field.

The 26-year-old admitted he just needed a breather Sunday after appearing in every game since returning from the disabled list Sept. 1.

"I'm still kinda in the early stages — I've had 60-something at-bats, which is like a spring training load, I think," Bryant said. "I wouldn't say I'm feeling something — I was just tired from playing."

He said he and the Cubs are just trying to exercise caution to ensure his left shoulder doesn't get any worse with postseason baseball a week away.

"I haven't had any pain or any of that, which is great," Bryant said. "I just gotta stay on top of my shoulder program and stuff like that, which we're doing, so that's good."

Bryant said he hit in the cage and went through a normal pregame routine Sunday, but instead of trying to catch up to big league pitchers throwing in the mid 90s, he got to sit back and let his shoulder rest.

The only possible concern there may be more at play with Bryant's shoulder is the timing of Sunday's day off.

Maddon said he was going to be cautious with Bryant when he first got off the DL and make sure he got enough rest, but then Bryant played every inning but two in his first six games back, only receiving a day off on Sept. 7 because rain washed away the game at Nationals Park.

Of the Cubs' 13 games since the other rainout in Washington D.C. on Sept. 9, Bryant started and played the entire contest in 12 of those games (he came in in the seventh inning in the other).

Bryant has had to utilize that left shoudler quite a bit since beginning his rehab four weeks ago, but he also received a day of rest just two days ago, when the Cubs had their only off-day of the month. 

If Bryant is back in the lineup on Monday, then this is all a moot point. And at the moment, there's no need to think the sky is falling and the Cubs will be without Bryant at all moving forward.

In fact, exercising caution is the right move given the potential danger that any one swing could bring the pain back in that left shoulder.

The Cubs woke up Sunday morning with a 2.5-game lead in the division and will maintain that gap into the final week of the regular season. There's no point in pushing Bryant to exhaustion or risking injury at the moment.

But if and when he does return, what type of force will he be in the Cubs lineup?

Since returning, Bryant is slashing .275/.346/.406 (.752 OPS) with 1 homer, 6 doubles and 5 RBI in 69 at-bats. He's also struck out a whopping 27 times (including a pair of 4-whiff games) against only 6 walks.

A healthy and successful Bryant is vital to the Cubs' World Series hopes next month and it will be interesting to see how much his shoulder becomes a talking point around this team over the final seven games of the regular season.

Cubs Talk Podcast: The timely emergence of the Kyles and a low level of concern about Kris (Bryant)

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USA TODAY

Cubs Talk Podcast: The timely emergence of the Kyles and a low level of concern about Kris (Bryant)

The Cubs reduced their magic number to five Sunday behind another stellar outing from Kyle Hendricks and a second straight game of encouraging offense from Kyle Schwarber. The emergence of the Kyles at the most critical point in the season should come as no surprise for two guys who have built their reputations as big-game performers, but what they’re doing right now is huge entering the final week of the season.

Meanwhile, Kris Bryant’s balky left shoulder is a talking point yet again. Is there any level of concern regarding the health of the Cubs superstar with October right around the corner? Kelly Crull and Tony Andracki discuss.

Listen to the full episode at this link or in the embedded player below: