CHICAGO -- Cubs rookie phenom Kris Bryant drove in 99 runs during the regular season. He's still looking for RBI 100. He's also looking for postseason hit No. 1.
Through three games, The Cubs' No. 3 hitter is 0-for-11 with one walk and four strikeouts. He’s grounded into two double plays, and almost a third.
"It’s just the cycles of the games," Bryant said. "I had a really good month in August and in September, a really, really good month. So you kind of expect the valleys and the peaks. It just happens to be [a valley] at this time. Guys are picking me up, so that’s nice."
So far Bryant, who hit .330 with seven homers in August and .336 with five homers in September, and cleanup hitter Anthony Rizzo (.278, 31 homers, 101 RBIs) haven’t provided the Cubs with any middle-of-the-order thump, but the hitters have a great chance to rectify that in their first home playoff game as the National League Division Series moves to Wrigley Field on Monday.
Rizzo is hitless as well, 0-for-10 with a walk and a run. He’s struck out four times and grounded into one double play.
Young or old, the postseason offers such a small sample size that it’s tough to judge a typically great player by these numbers. But that’s exactly what happens to great regular-season players who don’t click in October: They get judged. Such is life in a sport predicated by failure.
“The game’s hard,” Bryant said. “Sometimes the pitch looks good and it just darts down. These pitchers are good. I think a little more fine approach up there, really swinging at what I want in certain situations is what I need to do. I have a lot of confidence I’ll figure it out here soon. It’s kind of one of those things where I’m down in a little valley right now, but I’ll pick myself up.”
In the 4-0 victory over the Pirates in the wild-card game, all the Cubs' action came from Dexter Fowler and Kyle Schwarber atop the lineup. They each hit home runs and knocked in and scored every run.
The Cubs were blanked in the opener against the Cardinals, but in their 6-3 win in Game 2, Jorge Soler, who batted second, hit a double and a homer, driving in two runs. Fowler went 2-for-5 with an RBI, and the bottom of the order -- Miguel Montero, Kyle Hendricks and Addison Russell -- drove in runs. Cubs manager Joe Maddon worked the bunt and the running game to perfection to create runs.
“Isn’t that great?” Rizzo said. “Usually we’re the ones carrying the load.”
Throughout this season, Rizzo, an NL MVP candidate, hasn’t really demanded the attention requisite his standing in the lineup. Then again, after suffering through the competitive wasteland of the Cubs' rebuilding project, he's happy to share the credit.
“I’ve said it all year,” he said. “It’s not about me, it’s not about Kris, it’s not about Jorge [Soler], it’s about the whole team doing what we can do to win. At the end of the day, as long as we win, it doesn’t matter.”
But it wouldn’t hurt for them to hit some mistakes. Runs are at a premium in these games, and the margin for error is so slim. The Cubs haven't won a home playoff game since Game 2 of the National League Championship Series in 2003, so the crowd could get a little antsy if the team can't put some early runs on the board.
In the Cubs’ previous two divisional series, their 3-4 hitters didn’t drive in a run, as the team collected just 12 in six games. In 2008, Derrek Lee and Aramis Ramirez hit a combined .363 (8-for-22) with four doubles (three by Lee), but the Cubs got swept by the Dodgers.
In 2007, they had a little tougher time against the Diamondbacks, hitting a combined .167 (Ramirez hit fifth in Game 3, and cleanup hitter Cliff Floyd went 0-for-1 with two walks), grounding into three double plays. Not that they had a ton of runners to drive in. Alfonso Soriano, then the high-priced leadoff hitter, went 3-for-28 combined in those two series.
But there's no time to stress. This playoffs, especially with the early start times in this series, don’t give players much time to find their games. Not that the Cubs brass wants their players stressing over their approach in the cage or the video room.
“What Joe has preached at the beginning, when we played Pittsburgh, was, 'Don’t do anything different,'” Bryant said. “We still do our same routine we do before the games. If we take BP, if we don’t take BP, just do what you do. I think it’s important to do that -- don’t make the games bigger than they really are.”
So, no extra film session for the prohibitive Rookie of the Year favorite to watch those 26 pretty regular-season homers or those 31 doubles?
“No, no that’s a big enemy,” Bryant said. “It’s nice to to look at what you’ve done, but you don’t need to sit in front of the computer for an hour. Five minutes, tops.”
The Cubs front office helps out with advance scouting this time of year, but it doesn't sound like Rizzo is poring over the details.
“There’s nothing you can do,” Rizzo said. “You try to hit the ball hard, and that’s it. That’s all you can do.”