What makes David Bote so good in the clutch?

What makes David Bote so good in the clutch?

Wherever David Bote's career takes him, he'll always carry the label as a "clutch player." 

When you become the only person in baseball history to hit a walk-off grand slam with two outs, two strikes and your team down 3 runs, that kind of reputation will absolutely follow you around.

But how about the fact Bote is already second among Cubs players with 4 walk-off RBI despite playing just 46 home games in his career? (Anthony Rizzo is first with 7 walk-off RBI in his career.)

That's more than Ben Zobrist and Daniel Descalso, who have each notched more than 10 years and 1,000 games in the big leagues.

Even beyond walk-offs, Bote also has a game-tying 2-run shot in the bottom of the ninth inning on his resume from a July 26 game against the Diamondbacks last season. 

In total, Bote is hitting .370/.433/.815 (1.248 OPS) with 3 of his 7 career homers in the ninth inning or later. 

Here's where he ranks in leverage situations over his 93 big-league games:

High leverage — .280/.302/.660 (.962 OPS), 4 HR
Medium/low leverage — .242/.340/.348 (.688 OPS), 3 HR

Those are all just fancy numbers, but what's it all mean? When the lights are the brightest, Bote is at his best. 

"You can't teach that," Anthony Rizzo said. "He's had a lot of situations like that and he's come through. It's fun to watch."

So how does Bote do it? What makes him so clutch?

He has a specific approach and he practices those types of situations — and not just in the way where kids go out in their backyards and pretend they're up with the bases loaded in the bottom of the ninth inning.

"It's the mental side of calming yourself, making sure you look for what you want to do — even throughout the whole game," Bote said. "In the offseason and the cage, my last swing of the day is always the game-winning type — OK, it's bases loaded, two outs, we're down 1, I need a base hit. Or we're down 3 or whatever the situation is, I play it out and I just have that practice."

The mental aspect of the game is a huge reason why Bote became such a big story last year, persevering through a long journey in the minor leagues. 

But it's also about opportunity and there's certainly a sense of luck involved.

Sunday, for example, Javy Baez led off the bottom of the ninth inning by motoring into third base, which put Willson Contreras up for a possible walk-off situation. But Arizona's Archie Bradley hit the Cubs catcher with a pitch, bringing Bote up with a chance to end the game. 

"Definitely opportunistic," Bote admitted. "You only have a chance to do it if you're in a position to do it. ... It's a team effort — those guys set the table and I just happened to be the one on Sunday that came through. 

"[Albert] Almora is another guy who gets that opportunity a lot. I think that's the team mindset we have — getting to the next guy. If I didn't do it, I know [Ben Zobrist] would've done it. I think that's the mindset of it all and you hope the first guy that gets a crack at it gets it done."

Bote's clutch hit Sunday allowed the Cubs to avoid extra innings and gave him the opportunity to make his flight back home to Colorado for the birth of his third child, Sullivan. 

Bote was on paternity leave from the team Monday and Tuesday and had some time to reflect on what's already been an emotional week. 

Sunday also marked the one-year anniversary of his MLB debut.

"It was a year ago and it felt like forever ago, just with all that's happened," Bote said. "And I think it's a good thing. Just enjoying every day — the longer it seems, the better. I'm more focused on just worrying about today."

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According to Javy Baez, the Cubs need to improve their pregame focus

USA Today

According to Javy Baez, the Cubs need to improve their pregame focus

While the Cubs’ decline has been talked about over and over again, it’s always been framed in relatively vague terms. Perhaps in the interest of protecting a former manager who is still well-liked within the clubhouse, specifics were always avoided. It was just a change that was needed.

That is, until Javy Baez spoke on Sunday morning. In no unclear terms, Baez took a stab at explaining why such a talented team has fallen short of expectations in back-to-back seasons. 

“It wasn’t something bad, but we had a lot of options – not mandatory,” Baez said from his locker at Sloan Park. “Everybody kind of sat back, including me, because I wasn’t really going out there and preparing for the game. I was getting ready during the game, which is not good. But this year, I think before the games we’ve all got to be out there, everybody out there, as a team. Stretch as a team, be together as a team so we can play together.”

Related: What to love, and hate, about the Cubs heading into 2020

The star shortstop's comments certainly track. Maddon is widely considered one of the better managers in baseball, but discipline and structure have never been key pillars of his leadership style. He intrinsically trusts players to get their own work done – something that's clearly an appreciated aspect of his personality... until it isn't. World Series hangovers don’t exist four years after the fact but given Maddon’s immediate success in Chicago, it’s easy to understand how players let off the gas pedal. 

“I mean I would just get to the field and instead of going outside and hit BP, I would do everything inside, which is not the same,” he said. “Once I’d go out to the game, I’d feel like l wasn’t ready. I felt like I was getting loose during the first 4 innings, and I should be ready and excited to get out before the first pitch.” 

“You can lose the game in the first inning. Sometimes when you’re not ready, and the other team scores by something simple, I feel like it was because of that. It was because we weren’t ready, we weren’t ready to throw the first pitch because nobody was loose.” 

Baez also promised that this year would be far more organized and rigid. They will stretch as a team, warm up outside as a team and hopefully rediscover that early-game focus that may have slipped away during the extended victory lap. That may mean less giant hacks, too. 

“Sometimes we’re up by a lot or down by a lot and we wanted to hit homers,” he said. “That’s really not going to work for the team. It’s about getting on base and giving the at-bat to the next guy, and sometimes we forget about that because of the situation of the game. I think that’s the way you get back to the game – going pitch by pitch and at-bat by at-bat.” 

Baez was less specific when it came to his contractual discussions with the team, only saying that negotiations were “up and down.” He’d like to play his whole career here and would be grateful if an extension was reached before Opening Day – he’s just not counting on it. The focus right now is on recapturing some of that 2016 drive and the rest, according to him, will take care of itself.

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He may have lost the service-time battle, but Kris Bryant's got eyes on winning the war

He may have lost the service-time battle, but Kris Bryant's got eyes on winning the war

He always knew it was going to be an uphill battle. Kris Bryant just expected the climb to last a couple weeks, not a couple years. 

“Yeah, jeez. That took forever,” he said on Saturday, in regards to the grievance he filed against the Cubs back after the 2015 season. “It really did. At the beginning of it, I was told that it’d take maybe a couple weeks, so I was ready for it. And then the off-season kept going on and I was like, ‘All right, come out with it, let’s go.’”

Fast-forward 200 or so weeks, and the Cubs’ star third baseman got an answer – just not the one he, his agent Scott Boras, and the MLB Players Association was looking for. An independent arbitrator disagreed with the notion that the Cubs had manipulated Bryant’s service time in order to keep him under contract longer, and ruled that he would remain under team control until after the 2021 season. While many felt that what the Cubs did violated the spirit of the law, ultimately they didn’t infringe on the letter. 

“Obviously we had a disagreement. We handled it respectfully,” Bryant said. “I’m very thankful that Theo and the team saw it through. I saw it through to the end because it was something that I really believed in. My Mom and Dad told me to always stand up for what I believed in, and I was going to see the process through, and I saw it through. Respect on both ends, there’s definitely no hard feelings, so let’s definitely put that narrative to bed.” 

Despite one of the strongest cases in the history of these contractual disputes, there were ultimately too many ambiguities involved to reward Bryant with free agency one year earlier. Getting a substantial raise would have been nice, but much of Bryant’s motivation behind filing the grievance in the first place came from a sense of responsibility to bring to light what many feel are unfair labor laws within the current collectively-bargained agreement. It’s certainly not one extra year of market value salary, but as baseball barrels towards a contentious stretch of negotiations, bringing the issue to light – according to Bryant – is a win within itself. 

“I definitely felt that responsibility to take it on and be like, I want to be the guy that fights for this because I believe this is right,” he said. “And it’s going to help us in 2 years.

“I think it’s good for us to go through stuff like this. You identify the problems that you see, and you try to make it better. This last round, I think we, as players, really took a whoopin’. It’s up to us to fight for things that we think are right.” 

Don’t be surprised when Bryant continues to be a public figure throughout the next 24 months (or more) of discussions. He’s one of the game’s most recognizable faces, and from the very start, his five-year career has been tied to the hip of MLB’s service time manipulation controversy. He was vocal about squashing any idea that he held ill-will towards the Cubs front office, but did concede that the gray area which many front offices love to exploit has opened the door for uncomfortable, unnecessary friction. 

“The team doesn’t want to go through it,” he said. “I mean, Theo doesn’t want to have to make decisions like that, and cause … I wouldn’t say problems, but disagreements between players and the front office. I don’t want to be put in that situation either, so let’s just make it black and white. It’d make things a whole lot easier.” 

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