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Kris Bryant: Team, individual success in ’16 was ‘blessing and curse’

Anybody see what the Brewers did Wednesday afternoon?

“I have no clue,” Cubs third baseman Kris Bryant said. “They win?”

They beat the Pirates by a run just about the time many of the Cubs were getting to Wrigley Field for their game against the Reds. That shrunk the Cubs’ division lead to one game.

“My gosh,” Bryant deadpanned. “So much pressure.”

Kris Bryant in the dugout Sunday in Phoenix, where he reached base in 13 of 15 plate appearances against the Diamondbacks over the weekend.

Bryant grins, and those around him laugh. But he and teammates are taking the Brewers, the Cardinals and their own tenuous position in a weak National League Central seriously with roughly a quarter of the season left.

This time last year, the Cubs were 32 games over .500 with a 12½-game division lead and answering questions about playoff rotations.

With six weeks to play this year, there’s no guarantee they can hold off the Brewers, much less all three rivals within 4½ games of them when the day began. They needed to play .636 baseball the rest of the way to finish with 90 wins.

It’s the most adversity Bryant has faced since his big-league career began two weeks into the 2015 season – a career that went meteoric in 2016 with a boat-race division championship, historic World Series title and MVP award.

“It’s a blessing and a curse to have such a good season, as a team and so many individual good seasons, that it could ultimately hurt you for a little bit of a time period just because you want to do it again, and you expect it,” Bryant said during the recent 3-3 road trip west. “It’s important to realize that it’s tough to do.”

Who knew?

“It’s not that easy to have a year like they had last year,” Giants manager Bruce Bochy said.

Bochy knows. That’s who. His Giants won titles in 2010, 2012 and 2014 and missed the playoffs entirely each subsequent season, with the same basic core players.

“In those odd years, I would get asked all the time what’s going on, what happened,” Bochy said. “The game’s not that easy. Every year depends on players having their normal years and staying away from injuries, and having a nice surprise or two.”

And, maybe, having a better idea of what to expect from the hangover effect, the shorter offseason, the inevitable rise of some opponents and the increased target on their backs.

“I think it’s just part of the maturity process and learning and evolving as players,” said Bryant, 25. “The thing that I’m taking so far from the season is that everything that’s happened to us is very good for us. It’s important to struggle a little bit, go through these lulls, go through times where everybody’s questioning us. Because it’s going to happen at more than one point in your career.”

They got a few years’ worth of questions and criticism during a sub-.500 first half that put the front office on the brink of becoming sellers in July.

But even after a strong start out of the All-Star break, the Cubs haven’t hit a high-water mark better than eight games over .500. And after doing that Aug. 1, they lost eight of the next 13.

Their schedule favors a strong finish, especially with nothing but last-place teams in their way until Aug. 28.

“We’re still right there,” said Bryant, who walked to load the bases just ahead of Anthony Rizzo’s grand slam in the first inning against the Reds. “We feel good about our chances.

“But it’s just been a different path this year.”

Bryant said a tight division race with four teams in it toward the end could be exciting.

But not that exciting.

“I know what the Dodgers are doing,” he said of the team that was 49-9 since the first week of June heading into Wednesday’s late game against the White Sox,

“It’d be nice to go on a nice Dodger run right now,” he said. “That would be perfect.

“But some seasons aren’t perfect. This is definitely not a perfect season for us.”

Follow me on Twitter @GDubCub

Email: gwittenmyer@suntimes.com


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