Cubs 3 Up, 3 Down: Kris Bryant's Turnaround

An All-Star once again, Bryant has returned to form after a tough 2018 season.

Chris Emma
July 08, 2019 - 11:24 am
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(670 The Score) The Cubs had the chance to enter the All-Star break on a high note with three consecutive wins, but they managed just one run off White Sox right-hander Ivan Nova in a 3-1 loss Sunday. It was a result that was too familiar for their liking, as the Cubs hit the break at 47-43 but still hold first place in the NL Central, a half-game up on the Brewers.

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Here are the first-half trends surrounding the Cubs:

THREE UP

1.) Javy vs. Javy

After the breakout season of shortstop Javier Baez in 2018, it was worth wondering whether he could repeat it this year. Baez has in fact been even better.

Baez is on pace for nearly 40 home runs after hitting 34 last season. He's hitting .289 and has the identical .881 OPS that he had in 2018. After posting a 5.3 WAR last season, Baez has a 3.4 mark and is on pace to surpass a 6.0 if he continues at this level.

2.) KB's turnaround

Kris Bryant was quite frustrated as he entered this 2019 campaign. Bryant never looked like himself while playing through various ailments in 2018, and he was eager for a fresh start.

Bryant has returned to form, hitting 17 home runs with 44 RBIs and posting a slash line of .297/.403/.552. He has a 3.7 WAR in 85 games after posting a 2.3 WAR in 102 games in 2018.

3.) Second verse different than the first?

The Cubs underperformed in the first half but are confident in what's ahead, as first baseman Anthony Rizzo outlined.

"Kris Bryant, Jason Heyward, Addison Russell, Jon Lester, Cole Hamels, Kyle Schwarber, Craig Kimbrel," Rizzo said. "The whole 25-man roster. Good guys. Javy Baez. It speaks for itself."

What the Cubs also have on their side is the approach of manager Joe Maddon, whose big-picture outlook and habit of resting players has led to strong results in the second half. The Cubs are 189-103 after the All-Star break under Maddon.

THREE DOWN

1.) Dooming division?

The Cubs are a first-place team entering the All-Star break, but it sure doesn't feel that way. They have only a half-game lead over the second-place Brewers and a 4.5-game lead over the last-place Reds.

Expectations were clear that this NL Central would be a tough one to win, but this race is even tighter than imagined. It means the Cubs have little margin for error after the break.

2.) Brach struggles

Brad Brach has been a consistent reliever in his nine-year MLB career, but he has never endured struggles like these.

Brach has a 6.11 ERA in 35 2/3 innings, and it's worth wondering for how long he will have a spot in the Cubs bullpen. The silver lining is that Brach had a 2.39 ERA in the second half of 2018 after posting a 4.46 mark in the first half. That included a 1.52 ERA in 23 2/3 innings after a trade to the Braves last July.

3.) Pitching depth tested

The average age of the Cubs' five-man starting rotation is 32.2, which means injuries can't be a surprise. When 35-year-old left-hander Cole Hamels suffered an oblique strain on June 28, the Cubs found their rotation depth tested before the All-Star break.

The Cubs don't believe Hamels' strain is as severe as the one he suffered with Texas in 2017, but it will keep him out at least a few more starts. The team has already dealt with injuries to Jon Lester, 35, and Kyle Hendricks, their youngest starter at 29.

Chris Emma covers the Bears, Chicago’s sports scene and more for 670TheScore.com. Follow him on Twitter @CEmma670.