About four hours before Kris Bryant drove a long fly ball into the second row of the left field bleachers, Cubs manager David Ross made a prediction.
"I wouldn't be surprised if he gets hot here real soon,” Ross said, perched atop the dugout bench, “after the at-bats I saw yesterday.”
Bryant’s solo homer scored the Cubs’ first run of a 7-1 win Tuesday against Cleveland at Wrigley Field. It ended Bryant’s extra-base hit drought, which at 48 at-bats was a career high.
“That's not going out on a limb,” Ross chuckled after the game, “when you say, a former MVP and the guy that’s got some of the better stats on your team is going to have a good game.”
After a May performance that put him in the super-early MVP conversation, Bryant entered play Tuesday with just two hits in his last 10 games (.067 batting average). He wasn’t alone in his struggles at the plate. The Cubs went from scoring 131 runs in the month of May to entering Tuesday with just 69 runs scored in June.
“Collectively as a team, we're not really stroking the ball really well right now,” Ross said before the game Tuesday. “So, I think that has a lot to do with who we were facing, and we are banged up a little bit.”
In addition to missing contact hitters like Nico Hoerner (hamstring strain) and Matt Duffy (back strain) for almost a month, shortstop Javier Báez was in and out of the lineup with two thumb injuries.
A Bryant turnaround, paired with the team’s return to health, could provide the boost the Cubs need to end a tough June schedule on a positive note.
Even before the Cubs’ win Tuesday, Ross saw Ross saw promising signs. He pointed team’s approach Monday in a 4-0 loss to Cleveland, and specifically Bryant’s two-walk performance.
“When you're swinging it good, you feel like you want to carry the load,” Ross said. “Sometimes you may try a little bit harder. And (Bryant) just getting back to being him, controlling the strike zone, taking his walks and making sure he's on time, is a good place for him to be.”
Bryant, too, pointed to patience as the key to climbing out of his recent slump. He had gone on a 13-game hitting streak to close out the month of May.
“Sometimes … you want to keep that going, so you don't want to walk, you want to keep getting hits,” he said. “So, you swing at a borderline pitch that you maybe wouldn’t have swung at. And then you expand a little more, and a little bit more, and then you find yourself chasing pitches that you don't want to be swinging at.”
Bryant had shrunk his strike zone back down by Tuesday. In his second at-bat of the game, Bryant lifted a high heater over the fence to score the first run of the game. His teammates jumped around in the dugout as Bryant made his expressionless trot around the bases.
Then, in the middle of a sixth-inning rally, Bryant displayed his patience again. The Cubs had already opened the frame with three straight base hits from Sergio Alcántara, Rafael Ortega and Joc Pederson, to extend their lead to 3-0.
Cleveland made a pitching change to keep Bryant from facing rookie starter Eli Morgan for a third time. Right-hander Nick Sandlin replaced Morgan and nibbled around the edges of the strike zone. So, Bryant took a few hacks and accepted the free pass.
After Bryant’s walk, Willson Contreras and Báez hit back-to-back base knocks to drive in two more runs.
“It’s just the way of baseball: you go up and down,” Bryant said. “And that means you’re living. When it's flat, that means you're dead.”
A couple good games, of course, doesn’t guarantee that Bryant’s bat will stay hot. But Ross seems to think it will, and he was spot on with his premonition Tuesday.