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Swing and a myth: Kris Bryant is a lot better at clutch hitting than you probably think

In fact, the Cubs’ third baseman has been one of the best in the league at it since moving to the No. 3 spot in the lineup in early July.

Oakland Athletics v Chicago Cubs
Bryant
Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images

He doesn’t have the clutch gene. Can’t hit when it matters. Soft.

“It’s pretty funny,” Cubs third baseman Kris Bryant said.

Whatever word or phrase critics want to use against the former Rookie of the Year and MVP over his alleged Achilles heel, know these two things about Bryant and the men-in-scoring-position mud-slinging:

First, he laughs almost every time somebody brings it up.

Second, he’s starting to make the subject laughable to everyone else, too.

“Of course you want to do well in those situations, but it’s not something that is on the forefront of my mind,” said Bryant, who earned a third All-Star selection this year. “I think when you’re not doing something well that there’s plenty of other areas where you can do something well. That’s kind of what I’ve been doing.”

The subject has been an especially sensitive one for this team much of the season as the Cubs have scored in streaks and slumped with men in scoring position for long stretches. It’s also a subject of hot debate if only because sample sizes make it almost impossible to draw correlations, and numbers tend to fluctuate – while many in the game, such as manager Joe Maddon, insist against data that clutch-hitting ability is as tangible as the cotton in a Try Not to Suck t-shirt.

By the time Bryant got to the end of April with poor numbers in that area, he also started being singled out – perhaps because of his track record of success almost everywhere else, perhaps because he was coming off an injury-hampered 2018 that fostered skeptics.

But Bryant has quietly been one of the better performers on the team with men in scoring position since the end of April (.310, 28 RBI) – and not so quietly surging since July 1, going 11-for-26 (.423) with a 1.252 OPS and 13 RBIs (through Thursday).

Overall, this season he’s an above-average .273 hitter in that situation, with an OPS (.912) more than 100 points higher than the major-league average (through Thursday).

“I feel like I’ve been getting better,” said Bryant, whose post-June surge in that area corresponds roughly with his move to the No. 3 spot in the order. “Not amazing by any means. But moving in the right direction is always a positive, and hopefully I can just keep it up for 40 something more games.”

DID YOU KNOW

  • The Cubs have never won a postseason game after finishing the regular season with a losing road record. Twice they’ve made the playoffs, in 1998 before being swept in three games by the Braves in the division series and in 1932 before being swept in four by the Yankees in the World Series. They need an 18-1 finish on the road to avoid a losing road record this season.
  • The Cubs and the Twins are the only teams in the majors to have five starters make at least 20 starts each. But the Cubs are the only team to have five starters with sub-4.00 career ERAs make at least 15 starts each.

HIDDEN FIGURES

1.89 — Jose Quintana’s ERA in his first three starts of August, with 26 strikeouts and just one walk.

1 — Extra-base hits through the first 13 games of August for Anthony Rizzo (also 11 singles, five walks and was hit by three pitches).

2 — Cub left-handers who have struck out 14 in a game: Quintana on Tuesday and Jon Lester in 2015. (Note: since at least 1908 when earliest reliable game-by-game records are available).

5 — Cub hitters who exceeded last year’s full-season home run totals by the end of July this year (Kris Bryant, Willson Contreras, Jason Heyward, Albert Almora, Victor Caratini).

THAT’S WHAT HE SAID

“A big part of it, of course, is taking care of myself and the joy that I have for it. If you subtract the joy from the day then you really should do something else.” – Cubs manager Joe Maddon, 65, on his desire to manage through the rest of his 60s.

“I think they’re taking a lot of very talented kids and tying them into knots with math equations on something that they did naturally.” – Cubs outfielder Nick Castellanos on modern, launch-angle, metrics-based coaching methods for hitting.

“It stinks. But I know that he’ll get picked up. He’s one of those guys that should be around for a long time.” – Cubs Kris Bryant on his first big-league hitting coach, John Mallee, being fired by the Phillies this week.