How bad an offensive slump is Kris Bryant in? Well, he does have a seven-game hitting streak going.
How clueless, hopeless and miserable is he at the plate? The poor guy is only 13-for-31 (.419) in that span after the Cubs’ 3-1 victory over the Pirates on Friday at Wrigley Field.
Confused? Don’t be. Bryant’s numbers are strong as always, but the 26-year-old third baseman hasn’t felt like himself lately. He isn’t driving the ball with authority, hasn’t homered since May 14 and has grown increasingly “frustrated,” to use his word, with his mechanics.
Ah, but Friday — the Cubs’ 10th win in their last 12 games, pushing them a dozen games over .500 for the first time this season — might have been the key day in a turnaround by the team’s best player. For the first time in his career, Bryant batted leadoff. Three base hits later, the experiment was looking worthwhile enough that manager Joe Maddon said he expected it to last at least another day.
Bryant has started 245 big-league games batting in the No. 2 spot, 197 batting third, 19 batting cleanup and 44 batting fifth. Leading off? That hadn’t happened since his college days at San Diego. It probably won’t happen many more times, given Bryant’s power and run-producing ability.
But Maddon thought he was due for something different. Why the heck not?
“A change of scenery, put them in a different seat, see what they feel like,” explained a manager who convinced the baseball world long ago that he is willing to do almost anything with his lineup.
First baseman Anthony Rizzo led off in 14 games last season, has done so once in 2018 and has had great success — a .300 average and six home runs — in the role. Catcher Willson Contreras did it a couple of times last year and has done it once this year.
And now Bryant, who singled off losing pitcher Chad Kuhl (4-4) on the first pitch of the first inning and added singles in his second and third at-bats, has had — and presumably enjoyed — the experience.
“I figured it would happen at some point this year,” he said, “so I wasn’t completely surprised.”
But he was, and possibly still is, in need of a little more fun on the field.
“It’s just my expectations of myself are extremely high,” he said. “I get frustrated at myself pretty easily because I expect a lot of myself and my teammates expect a lot out of me, and I want to give it all I’ve got. And sometimes when you don’t feel right in terms of mechanics and stuff like that, it’s just frustrating. So that’s kind of where I’ve been at.”
Maddon questioned whether or not Bryant is playing the game with enough joy.
“It gets to everybody,” Maddon said. “It gets to me. You have to talk all these guys off the ledge at different moments. It just happens when a guy who’s really good meets failure like that. It’s not easy because they’re normally having good things happen.”
It’s not all that easy to see the “failure” in a player who has the most hits (65) and the top on-base percentage (.406) and is tied for the most runs scored (35) on what has been one of the best offensive teams in all of baseball. But there is a telltale sign to keep watching for that’ll reveal when Bryant is completely out of this funk.
“When things go good for me, I’m really in rhythm with the pitcher, getting the bat waggling, a little swagger at the plate,” Bryant said. “And that’s what I felt like today.”