Chicago Cubs

Kris Bryant to Eric Thames: ‘Dude, we got to hit together’

Kris Bryant to Eric Thames: ‘Dude, we got to hit together’

Eric Thames now has an open invitation to "The Bryant Man Cage" this offseason.
 
Thames had been so far off the baseball map that Kris Bryant didn't realize they both live in Las Vegas and used to play in the West Coast Conference. But where Bryant's fast track made him a Rookie of the Year, National League MVP and World Series champion within three-and-a-half years of leaving the University of San Diego, Thames has bounced around since the Toronto Blue Jays grabbed him in the seventh round of the 2008 draft out of Pepperdine University. 

Traded to the Seattle Mariners and Baltimore Orioles in the middle of the 2012 and 2013 seasons. Selected off waivers by the Houston Astros and released three months later. Putting up 124 homers and 382 RBI in the Korea Baseball Organization led to a three-year, $16 million commitment from the Milwaukee Brewers. 

If they had no idea who this guy was, the Cubs know now after clawing back for a 7-4 victory on Wednesday afternoon at Wrigley Field, where Thames looked like the Triple Crown candidate for small sample sizes.

"I was talking to him at first," Bryant said. "I was like: ‘Dude, we got to hit together.' But he's on some type of run right now. It's impressive to watch.

"Everybody has a story. He had to go to Korea for three years. And it's hard not to feel happy for a guy like that who's worked his butt off to get back to this point and things are paying off for him."

Maybe Thames will stop by the house where Bryant grew up and his father, Mike, gives lessons and passes on what Ted Williams once taught minor-leaguer hitters in the Boston Red Sox organization. Dexter Fowler has worked out there and Shane Victorino lives in the neighborhood. 

Against the defending World Series champs, Thames went 6-for-11 with three doubles, three walks, a homer and six runs scored during this three-game series. There will be cynical reactions.  

After Thames homered in his fifth straight game on Monday night, USA Today reported a representative from Major League Baseball's drug-testing program approached him in the visiting clubhouse.  

"Random, right?" Thames told USA Today, laughing. "Guess it comes with the territory, right?"

Manager Joe Maddon called the production "Bonds-esque" and compared Thames to the zone Daniel Murphy got into when he became a new Mr. October and the New York Mets swept the Cubs during the 2015 National League Championship Series.

"If you want a guy that's really disciplined and knows the strike zone, you probably have to draft it or buy it," Maddon said. "It's hard to create it or nurture it. My experience is that with a guy that's more of a swinger, it's easier to get him to not strike out as opposed to accept the walk. That's just in their nature.

"You could get them somewhat better. But to go from being an absolute free-swinger to a disciplined hitter, that's rare. That's absolutely rare. Maybe it's his situation, going away from the limelight and just getting into a little bit more secluded area that he could test things."         

Until Opening Day this year, Thames, 30, last appeared in a big-league game on Oct. 1, 2012, the end of a season that saw him generate nine homers and a .672 OPS and 87 strikeouts in 290 combined plate appearances for Toronto and Seattle.

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Veteran catcher Miguel Montero – who never played in the American League – had the same reaction as Bryant: Who is this guy?

"He's swinging a hot bat," Montero said. "He doesn't really have a lot of holes in his swing. We went in, he covered inside. We went away, he covered outside. We went breaking ball, he covered breaking ball. 
 
"When you're swinging good, it doesn't matter what they throw you, you're going to hit it. Obviously, we need to find a way to pitch him better next time."

Imagine what some time in "The Bryant Man Cage" might do to Thames' game.

"I think we're just excited when we get him out," Bryant said. "We all go through runs like that where you feel like you just hit everything on the nose – outs, hits, homers – and you just got to ride the wave because they don't happen all the time."

Cubs Talk Podcast: Postseason math and a huge series in Milwaukee

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AP

Cubs Talk Podcast: Postseason math and a huge series in Milwaukee

Kelly Crull, Jeff Nelson, Nate Poppen and Tony Andracki run down the math and scenarios for the Cubs entering the last week-and-a-half of the season. Is this showdown with the Milwaukee Brewers the biggest series the Cubs have played since 2003? At the very least, the panel agrees it’s the most important/impactful series since that four-game set against the San Francisco Giants in August 2015.

Plus, Insider Patrick Mooney chats with Cubs bench coach Davey Martinez on Joe Maddon, Wade Davis and how the team has come together in 2017.

Listen to the entire podcast here:

Cubs Road Ahead: Showdown with Brewers looming

Cubs Road Ahead: Showdown with Brewers looming

CSN's Tony Andracki and Jeff Nelson discuss the upcoming matchups and recent team meeting in this edition of the Cubs Road Ahead, presented by Chicagoland & NW Indiana Honda Dealers.

The Cubs are about to embark on their biggest regular-season series in at least the last decade, if not longer: A four-game set in Milwaukee against a Brewers team that is only 3.5 games back of the division leaders entering Thursday.

Good news for the Cubs? They're 4-2 at Miller Park this year with a 2.72 ERA, 0.94 WHIP and 10.1 K/9. 

Bad news for the Cubs? They're only 7-8 against the Brewers in 2017 as Ryan Braun has posted a 1.040 OPS and 12 RBI in 12 games against Chicago pitching.

And things don't calm down for the Cubs even after the weekend, as they head to St. Louis Monday for a four-game set against the Cardinals, who figure to make up some ground on one of the teams ahead of them in the standings this weekend with the Cubs and Brewers going head-to-head.