<
>

Bryant, Rizzo must find their swing on flight back to Chicago

LOS ANGELES -- It’s a simple equation, really: Somewhere in the middle of the night, during the 2,000-mile flight from Los Angeles to Chicago, Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo will have to find their swings. Maybe it happens over the Rocky Mountains or the plains of Nebraska or the cornfields of Iowa, but it has to happen: The Chicago Cubs need their big boys to start producing.

Bryant went 0-for-4 with two strikeouts in Sunday’s 4-1 gut-punch of a loss to the Dodgers and is now 5-for-28 (.179) in the postseason with 13 strikeouts. Rizzo went 0-for-3 with two strikeouts and is 4-for-26 (.154) with nine strikeouts. In seven playoff games, the Cubs are hitting .162. They’ve scored 20 runs, but nine of those came in one game. In the other six, they’ve averaged 1.8 runs per game.

They’ve run into some good pitching, no doubt. But nobody in a subdued Cubs clubhouse was using that as an excuse. “Obviously, we have to get some baserunners and start stringing some hits together,” Bryant said. But he alluded to another issue: The Cubs have hit just four home runs in seven playoff games. They hit 223 in the regular season, third-most in the National League, just 18 behind the majors-leading 241 that the Yankees hit -- and the Cubs did that without benefit of a DH.

“It seems like it’s a game of home runs, and that’s what happened tonight,” Bryant said. “So I guess we have to hit some home runs.” He was smiling when he said that, but it wasn’t really a joke. That’s how the Cubs score runs -- they draw walks and hit the ball over the fence. They were sixth in the NL with a .255 team batting average, but first in on-base percentage thanks to drawing the second-most walks.

That’s the strange thing about what Bryant and Rizzo are going through; they’re not showing their usual patience at the plate. Bryant saw 16 pitches on Sunday and swung at 11 of them. Rizzo saw 10 pitches in three plate appearances and then was hit by the first pitch Kenley Jansen threw him in the ninth. In the regular season, Bryant’s chase rate on pitches out of the strike zone was 26.3 percent; in the postseason, it’s at 42.1 percent. Rizzo’s chase rate has increased from 28.6 to 43.1 percent. You’re not going to produce swinging at balls off the plate.

Before Game 2, Joe Maddon stressed that the biggest thing with the offense is “we still have to stay in our lanes.” Meaning, don’t swing at bad pitches or expand your normal sweet spot. He talked about when the Cubs are going good, it’s because they’re going up the middle. “When we get into pull mode, most teams, not just us, when you get guys like [Rich] Hill and you want to get into pull mode, he just lights up.” He said if the Cubs were getting two-strike hits and opposite-field line drives, he’ll take it.

That all makes sense, but there’s Bryant saying more home runs are in order. Guess what? This hitting thing is pretty difficult, especially when he has to face a big curveballing lefty like Hill and then adjust to facing two of the best relievers in the game right now in Brandon Morrow and Jansen, who cruised through their combined three innings on just 31 pitches.

It’s all a different story than last postseason, when the Cubs out-homered their opponents 20 to 11. Bryant hit .308/.400/.523, while Rizzo hit .277/.373/.492. Those two were the ring leaders, getting on base and producing some big hits. We also link them together, not just because of the commercials but because they are the heart of the Cubs' offense. They need to feed off each other like they do in the regular season. “It’s always good to have that pick-me-up,” Bryant said. “Sometimes during the season your brain [turns] to mush, so it’s nice having a guy like that hitting behind you.”

The Cubs know adversity, after trailing two games to one in the NLCS last year and trailing three games to one in the World Series. “We have to win four games, that’s the bottom line,” Rizzo said. “Tonight was a tough one, but nothing you can do about it. We have to get on base more. Keep it going. It’s contagious, so we have to just keep battling.”

That’s what you expect them to say and what they should say. It’s 2-0 and the Dodgers look tough and that bullpen looks unbeatable. “Sometimes you have to lay your marbles out there and you get beat,” Jon Lester said.

The good thing is the Cubs are going back to Wrigley. Bryant hit 18 of his 29 home runs there. Rizzo hit .319 and slugged .571 at home compared to .228 and .445 on the road. Maddon is giving the team a day off on Monday. Let them relax, rest up, watch Monday Night Football and gear up for Tuesday.

The task: Oh, just beat a guy named Yu Darvish, who has some of the nastiest stuff of any starter in the league, and a bullpen that hasn’t allowed a hit in two games and just a .123 average over five playoff games so far.

Good luck.