Chicago Cubs: A healthy Kris Bryant will completely transform the offense

(Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
(Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images) /

On paper, the Chicago Cubs offense will look nearly identical to the team that lost in the Wild Card game last fall – but there’s a lot more to it than that.

Things have changed for the Chicago Cubs. No longer the aptly-nicknamed ‘Lovable Losers’, Chicago transformed over the last half-decade under president of baseball operations Theo Epstein and new-school manager Joe Maddon.

In the last four seasons, the Cubs averaged 97 regular season wins, reached three consecutive National League Championship Series – winning a World Series in the process – and last season’s ‘failure’ comprised of 95 wins and a fourth-straight trip to the postseason. In short, it’s been the closest thing to a Golden Age for the team since the turn of the 20th century.

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Fans have clamored for a transformative offseason since that Wild Card game loss in early October – one that came on the heels of a heartbreaking loss to the Milwaukee Brewers in Game 163 at Wrigley Field. Instead, they’ve gotten one labeled as complacent and negligent – where the team’s biggest move was bringing back Cole Hamels on a $20 million team option and essentially replacing Tommy La Stella with Daniel Descalso.

But, regardless of how you feel about the team’s moves (or lack thereof), it seems as if the Cubs’ course is set, whether you like it or not. Still, there is cause for optimism – and it starts and ends with the team’s former MVP third baseman, Kris Bryant.

Injury-free, Bryant looks to rebound

Sports fans, in general, have a ‘what have you done for me lately’ mentality. Instead of remembering the scorching hot start Bryant turned in (he was getting on base 44 percent of the time in the season’s first month and carried an OPS north of .900 through the end of May.

But instead of focusing on what a healthy, injury-free Kris Bryant brought to the offense early in the year, they remember a guy who looked completely overmatched by fastballs in the low-90s. The 2015 NL Rookie of the Year is feeling better than ever – and is feeding on last season’s failure.

"“Just how we went down — playing so many games in a row,” Bryant said earlier this month. “When you go through something like that, you kinda expect it to go your way. … But sometimes you don’t get what you want. It’s kinda good for us to get our teeth kicked in on our field … I think ultimately we’ll all learn from it and come out with a chip on our shoulder.”"

We all know about the Cubs’ ‘broken’ offense from the second half. A team built around driving the ball for extra bases simply quit hitting for power. Bryant, sapped of his home run stroke by an ailing shoulder, was joined by the likes of Kyle Schwarber, Willson Contreras and Albert Almora in a group that couldn’t score runs.

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The team’s brutal schedule did them no favors, of course. But with a similar slate likely to cap off the 2019 regular season, the Chicago Cubs are going to have to accept what lies ahead and tackle it head-on.

And no one is more important in that equation than a healthy, resurgent Kris Bryant.