It’s one thing for the Cubs’ Kris Bryant to be slumping. It’s another for him to be slumping while the Brewers’ Christian Yelich is setting the world on fire.
There’s no way Bryant can hide his .230 batting average or his one lonesome home run. Not in Chicago. Not after his struggles last season. Not with so much hand-wringing in general over What’s Wrong With the Cubs. And certainly not after the 39 homers he hit in 2016.
But with Yelich entering play Monday hitting .353 and pounding 13 homers in the Brewers’ first 23 games, the spotlight trained on Bryant’s troubles feels like it’s powered by Niagara Falls. And the Cubs and Brewers being National League Central rivals turbo-boosts the impulse to compare. You almost can hear a mother saying to her directionless son, ‘‘Why can’t you be more like your brother?’’
Yelich entered play Monday leading the majors in homers and RBI (31). He would have had a 14th homer if the Dodgers’ Cody Bellinger hadn’t robbed him with an over-the-wall grab Sunday.
Bryant hasn’t homered since the Cubs’ opener March 28 in Texas. Three of his eight RBI this season came in that game. Since then, there has been a lot of nothing. It’s hard to say, ‘‘It’s early yet,’’ when temperatures in Chicago have climbed above 70.
Is Bryant’s left shoulder OK? Is he haunted by getting hit in the helmet by a pitch a year ago Monday? Those are legitimate questions, even though Bryant and the Cubs say neither is an issue. He missed four games after the ball to the helmet, but the incident seemed to have had no effect on his production. He was hitting .319 with two homers and 11 RBI before he was hit and finished with a .272 average, 13 homers and 52 RBI. His power was lacking even before he got hit in the head.
In a strange way, you almost would prefer that his shoulder inflammation of last season was still an issue. At least that would explain why Bryant’s power numbers continue to be so low. He said he first got hurt on a headfirst slide in May. He went on the injured list in June and struggled after he came back.
He continues to say his shoulder is fine, which leaves us with very little in the way of satisfactory answers. It leads to lots of social-media dread, which isn’t good for anybody. It leads to comparing and contrasting, which is what we do in sports.
The contrast between what Bryant, the 2016 NL Most Valuable Player, is doing and what Yelich, the 2018 NL MVP, is doing is enough to make a Cubs fan sob in his or her favorite beverage. Both men picked up where they left off last season, which is excellent for the Brewers and very much not so for the Cubs.
Anyone who has watched baseball long enough can tell when a hitter is locked in at the plate. He looks like he can bash anything. Right now, Yelich looks like he could hit a Wiffle ball or a medicine ball out of the park.
In the same way, a veteran eye knows when someone is slumping. That’s the case when regarding Bryant, who looks so uncomfortable at the plate that he might as well be on a blind date.
Why the attention on Bryant and not on Cubs teammate Anthony Rizzo, who is hitting .197 with three homers and 11 RBI in 20 games? Because Rizzo is a streaky player who goes through slumps like this annually and almost always extracts himself. At this point last season, he was hitting .171 with three homers and 11 RBI and ended up with a .283 average, 25 homers and 101 RBI.
If he’s healthy, Bryant will come out of the worst part of this slump. There’s too much talent there for him not to get the arrow pointed in another direction. But the fact that it has been so long since he has been good is a concern. There’s no glossing over that, try as the Cubs might. His bat comes with its own frost warning.
At least the schedule favors Bryant. At the Cubs Convention in January, he told a crowd that St. Louis is ‘‘boring,’’ which riled up Cardinals fans. Cardinals catcher Yadier Molina responded that ‘‘only stupid players and losers’’ make comments like that. The Cubs don’t play the Cardinals on the road until the end of May. Perhaps by that time, Bryant will be out of his slump. If not, he might want to avoid St. Louis.
Come to think of it, Chicago might not be very welcoming for him, either.