For Kris Bryant, the Chicago Cubs’ franchise cornerstone and former MVP, the 2018 campaign has not gone according to plan. While the first two months of the season had the 2016 NL MVP looking like a candidate to win the award for the second time in three years, not much else has went right for the 26-year-old third baseman.
At the end of May, Bryant was slashing .286/.401/.524 after posting an OPS of .904, 10 doubles, six home runs and 16 RBI in 110 May at-bats. If the season had ended on May 31, Bryant would have rivaled the numbers that won him is MVP award two years ago. His 147 wRC+ ranked just one point behind the 148 mark he posted in 2016 while his .401 OBP would have topped his MVP-worthy number of .385. In addition, the youngster’s .322 BABIP at the end of May was ten points lower than his 2016 number while his batting average sat only six points behind his MVP-caliber performance two years ago.
Nevertheless, the remaining four months of the season had to be played and that’s when Bryant began to run into problems. On June 23, for the first time in his professional career, Bryant was placed on the DL, his ailment, left shoulder soreness. After a 16-day stay on the shelf, Bryant returned to game action for a brief 10-game period.
While Bryant showed flashes of his pre-injury self, posting a .425 slugging percentage, .175 ISO and solid 19.1 percent strikeout rate, the youngster was not fully healthy. For that reason, the Cubs placed their face of the franchise player back on the DL with left shoulder inflammation on July 24. Now, more than a month later, Bryant is nearing a comeback after beginning a rehab stint in Triple-A on Monday.
The plan is to have Bryant rehab for multiple games to get his timing back before returning him to the lineup with a revamped swing around the time rosters expand on September 1. Yes, you heard that right, Bryant has altered his swing, albeit a minor adjustment. Instead of finishing his stroke with his left hand on the bat only, Bryant now follows through with both hands, easing the load on his left shoulder.
That change has the ability to tap a source of power for Bryant that may not have been present this season or even when he hit 39 home runs two years ago. If that’s the case, the addition of Bryant back into the lineup will no doubt lengthen it, especially with his buddy Anthony Rizzo carrying the load in his absence.
“Bryzzo” Can Finally Click Once Again
Rizzo, like Bryant, has had his own ups and downs this season. Thankfully for the Cubs, Rizzo has stayed healthy except for a short stretch in early April when his back tighten up. It was in that month of April that Rizzo began what was perhaps the worst stretch of play since his rookie season playing for the San Diego Padres.
On May 1, Rizzo was slashing .149/.259/.189 with just one home run (hit on Opening Day), nine RBI, 15 strikeouts and just four walks.
Luckily for the Cubs, that rough stretch correlated with Bryant’s solid efforts before they both seemed to click in May. As mentioned previous, Bryant posted an OPS north of .900 in May, while at the same time Rizzo was slashing .303/.408/.576/.984. Combined, the two halves of “Bryzzo” clubbed 13 home runs in May, driving in 44 runs and collecting 16 doubles.
It’s no coincidence that during that productive stretch of play from Bryant and Rizzo the Cubs’ offense was one of the best in the league. Their 144 runs, .185 team ISO, .273 batting average and 117 wRC+ all ranked in the top-five in baseball. To go along with that, the Cubs finished the month with the second most RBI (140), second lowest strikeout rate (19.1 percent) and the 11th best HR/FB rate (13.4 percent).
Both participants of “Bryzzo” did their parts to bolster those numbers, accounting for 35 runs, ISO’s north of .250, a combined wRC+ of 296, 44 RBI, a culminated strikeout rate of around 14 percent and HR/FB rates of at least 14.6 percent (Rizzo – 17.9 percent).
Since May 31, Bryant has played in just 28 games, making it very hard for “Bryzzo” to churn out the production Cubs’ fans are so used to seeing.
With that being said, the band could be getting back together at just the right time once again. As previously mentioned, Bryant’s mechanical adjustment could provide more, yes I said more, pop in his bat moving forward, especially when all reports point to a pain-free and eager-to-return-to-action Kris Bryant.
While his first rehab game wasn’t much to behold (F9. reach on E7, BB, strikeout), Bryant’s fly out did travel a long way and to the opposite field nonetheless.
On the flip side of things, Rizzo has returned to form since the All-Star break, a bad sign for opposing pitchers. Entering play on Monday, Rizzo was hitting .336 since the break, with nine home runs, seven doubles, 23 RBI and the same number of strikeouts and walks, 19. Those extra base hits have resulted in a .611 slugging percentage for the lefty, .275 ISO and 173 wRC+.
In the first half, Rizzo’s batted ball numbers were skewed toward medium contact line-drives. So far in this half of play, Rizzo has just as much hard contact as medium contact at 41.6 percent, while at the same time dropping his line-drive rate nearly six percentage points and upping his fly ball rate almost three points.
Rizzo’s efforts this months have been exacerbated this past week as the southpaw slugger has kicked things up a notch. Because of his 1.500 OPS and three home runs this past week, Rizzo was named the National League Player of the Week on Monday.
— Chicago Cubs (@Cubs) August 27, 2018
Rizzo backed up his scorching hot week with a three-hit day on Monday night, collecting his 1,000th hit as a Cub and 22nd home run of the year along the way in a 7-4 victory.
Return of “Bryzzo” Means Good Things for the Cubs
Not many teams can miss a player like Bryant and still be 20-plus games over .500 and maintain a division lead. That is exactly what the Cubs are doing right now, with newly acquired Daniel Murphy, a red-hot Rizzo and a suddenly strong starting rotation paving the way for success.
With Murphy now in the fold and producing, Bryant’s return would give the Cubs a possible one-through-four of Murphy, Bryant, Rizzo and Javier Baez (who is in the middle of his own MVP-caliber season). That should strike fear in opposing pitchers all across the league for far more reasons than the return of “Bryzzo” to the North Side.
Still, Bryant and Rizzo seem to love hitting back-to-back as the last two seasons have displayed. If the month of May was any precursor to how Bryant and Rizzo will click once they are both healthy and producing, then the Cubs should have no problem rolling into the postseason.
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