Kris Bryant knocks out Brewers and knows what big-game experience means for Cubs

Kris Bryant knocks out Brewers and knows what big-game experience means for Cubs

MILWAUKEE – Teammates swarmed Kris Bryant in Miller Park’s visiting dugout late Thursday night, flinging sunflower seeds and forming a mosh pit around the National League’s reigning MVP.

Are you not entertained? The Cubs haven’t always played with this urgency or made it easy while nursing a World Series hangover. But they can feel it now, how close they are to October and how much they learned last year while making history.

It’s too early to pop champagne bottles, but the Cubs won a huge swing game in the NL Central race, beating the Milwaukee Brewers in the 10th inning when Bryant blasted Oliver Drake’s 92-mph fastball off a beam underneath the gigantic video board.

The Cubs watched it ricochet back onto the right-center field grass for a go-ahead two-run homer, bumping up the division lead to 4.5 games while cutting the magic number to clinch the division down to six.

After a head-spinning 5-3 victory that lasted 3 hours and 57 minutes and ended at 11:08 p.m., Bryant didn’t sound surprised or overexcited, the same way he didn’t overreact when the Cubs struggled to gain traction before the All-Star break and the Brewers swept the defending World Series champs two weekends ago at Wrigley Field.       

“We’ve done that so many times,” Bryant said. “We’ve had a nice run with that. I guess it is experience. The heartbeats aren’t going too fast when the game’s on the line there. It kind of plays to our advantage.”

So did the Brewers pushing their bullpen so hard this week trying to catch up that Cubs manager Joe Maddon would have to admit “their A-listers were not available,” meaning Corey Knebel, Anthony Swarzak and Josh Hader. Classic response from Bryant, who has 28 homers and likes to think of pitchers as nameless, faceless opponents: “I didn’t find out their top three guys were down until after the game was over.”

Maybe that changes the ninth-inning rally against Jeremy Jeffress where Ian Happ sprinted for a “Respect 90” single and scored the game-tying run when Javier Baez delivered a two-out, two-strike single up the middle. But the Cubs are in their element now, playing games that matter, not what-if.

“I just think we like loud,” Maddon said. “I think we’re a little bit like adrenaline junkies with the fact we’re used to 40,000 people a night.”

Just look at the stone face Wade Davis made in the ninth inning, escaping a bases-loaded jam by striking out Domingo Santana swinging at an elevated 95-mph fastball and forcing Orlando Arcia to chop a 3-2 pitch back to the mound. The All-Star closer who’s 32-for-32 in save chances went back out for the 10th inning and struck out the side to notch the win. That is a five-out playbook Maddon can use in October.

“You definitely feel it,” Davis said of the playoff atmosphere in a road stadium filled with Cubs fans. “It’s a lot easier to get up for the moment itself instead of having to create it yourself. You feel that.”

Kris Bryant is all aboard the Mitch Trubisky bandwagon

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AP

Kris Bryant is all aboard the Mitch Trubisky bandwagon

Count Kris Bryant among the Chicagoans who are calling for Mitch Trubisky to start at quarterback for the Bears.

OK, that may be a bit extreme as Bryant simply said he would supporting giving Trubisky a "shot", but still:

After a rough game for incumbent starting QB Mike Glennon last week, most of Chicago has been clamoring for the No. 2 overall pick to get some snaps under center.

Why wouldn't the crown prince of Chicago baseball get in on the noise? 

Kris Bryant's laser focus could be key to unlocking Cubs offense

Kris Bryant's laser focus could be key to unlocking Cubs offense

Kris Bryant got the faux in-game interview from his Cubs teammates in the Wrigley Field dugout on Tuesday night, with Tommy La Stella up close and personal with the reigning National League MVP, Ian Happ gripping a boom microphone held together with white tape and Javier Baez holding an imaginary TV camera over his right shoulder.

Did La Stella ask Bryant about his numbers with runners in scoring position?

Bryant had just launched a Robert Gsellman changeup into the left-center field bleachers for a three-run homer that allowed the Cubs to exhale in the fourth inning of an 8-3 win over the New York Mets and maintain their slim leads on the St. Louis Cardinals (2 games) and Milwaukee Brewers (2.5 games) in the National League Central. 

“I didn’t even know there was negativity around,” said Bryant, who until that moment hadn’t homered or driven in a run in September, including an ugly three-game sweep over the weekend where the Brewers outscored the Cubs by a 20-3 aggregate. “I just don’t pay attention to it. I’m glad I haven’t seen it or heard it. 

“Nobody’s talking about it here, so it just comes with the territory. We signed up for this. We wouldn’t have it any other way.”

To be clear, Bryant isn’t the problem here as the Cubs try to rewire their offense for October, but he will always be part of the solution, because he can impact the game in so many different ways. Pulling out his RBI total – he got his 63rd with a bases-loaded sacrifice fly to the warning track in center field in the eighth inning – and batting average with runners in scoring position (.212) doesn’t tell the entire story.

“It doesn’t feel right, but you’re going to have years like that,” Bryant said. “It just feels weird taking more walks with runners in scoring position. Obviously, we’re baseball players and we want to hit the ball, but it’s important to take your walks when they give ‘em.

“I feel like I’ve been able to do that this year. I’ve probably had a handful of times where I could have put some pitches in play – just to get a run in – but I took the walk. It’s kind of a fine line there.”

This is part of the evolution of Bryant, who leads the team in runs scored (96), walks (87) and OPS (.929). His .402 on-base percentage is 17 points higher than where he finished during his MVP season. He recognizes and attacks his weaknesses, steadily chopping down his strikeout percentage from his 2015 Rookie of the Year campaign (30.6) to his MVP year (22) to this season (18.9). He remains an excellent base runner and a solid defender at third base and all over the outfield.

Manager Joe Maddon made the analogy to Jake Arrieta trying to live up to the impossible expectations set during his 2015 Cy Young Award season. Bryant (26 homers) sees the parallels with Cincinnati Reds technician Joey Votto, who hates giving in to pitchers, understands who he is as a hitter and ignores Marty Brennaman’s hitting lessons. 

“There’s no need to press about it,” Bryant said. “Sure, it would be nice to go out there and hit .300 every year with runners in scoring position and just do everything right. But this game’s hard. It’s not going to come that easy to you every year. I wish it would.

“Actually, I don’t know if I wish it would, because then it wouldn’t be fun. You kind of enjoy the ups and downs in this game, because when you’re in a down spot and come out of it, it just feels so much better. It’s important for us to realize that.” 

Bryant said that with a nod and walked out of the clubhouse with his phone and a book in his left hand, Shawn Green’s “The Way of Baseball: Finding Stillness at 95 mph.”