Kris Bryant's Shocking Homerless Month Couldn't Stop Cubs' Surge

Danny KnoblerMLB Lead WriterJune 14, 2018

NEW YORK, NY - JUNE 02:  Kris Bryant #17 of the Chicago Cubs looks on before a game against the New York Mets at Citi Field on June 2, 2018 in the Flushing neighborhood of the Queens borough of New York City. The Cubs defeated the Mets 7-1 in 14 innings.  (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)
Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

Nelson Cruz hit another home run Wednesday. Kris Bryant did not.

Cruz has five home runs in the last five days for the Seattle Mariners, which is pretty impressive. Bryant has none in the last 30 days for the Chicago Cubs, which is pretty...surprising?

Yeah, that's a good word for it, because while you hardly expect Bryant to go that long without connecting, it would be wrong to read too much into it. After all, Bryant went 16 games (and 20 days) between home runs in July 2016, and we all know how that season ended for him and for the Cubs.

Bryant's slump is enough of a short-term concern that Cubs manager Joe Maddon gave him a day off Wednesday. Maddon didn't even use Bryant as a pinch hitter as the Cubs fell 1-0 to the Milwaukee Brewers, telling reporters (via the Chicago Tribune's Mark Gonzales), "He's been struggling a lot."

Bryant is hitless in his last 16 at-bats, a mini-slump Maddon attributed to him looking "fatigued a little bit," according to Gordon Wittenmyer of the Chicago Sun-Times. There may be nothing more to it than that, and one American League scout who watched the Cubs in two recent series said he saw nothing in Bryant's at-bats that should raise any serious concerns.

"He was making good contact," the scout said Wednesday. "He was a tough out. He just wasn't hitting the ball out of the park."

The Bryant home run drought has been more of an oddity than a problem for the Cubs, who have gone 17-10 in the 27 games Bryant has gone without a homer. (Bryant has played in 24 of them, driving in eight runs with a .706 OPS.) The Los Angeles Dodgers are the only NL team with a better record in that span.

The Cubs were two games out of first place on May 14, when Bryant connected off Atlanta's Julio Teheran in a 6-5 loss. They're 1.5 games out of first now, after Wednesday's loss to the Brewers.

"They've probably got the best team, position by position, in the National League," the AL scout said. "It's their pitching that may hold them back."

Bryant had a long homer drought in 2016, too, but that season ended well for him and for the Cubs.
Bryant had a long homer drought in 2016, too, but that season ended well for him and for the Cubs.Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

Cubs management may feel the same way, and Gonzales suggested in the Tribune this week that the Cubs could focus on starting rotation help at the trade deadline. The Cubs added two starting pitchers last winter, but Yu Darvish has one win and hasn't pitched since May 20 because of right triceps tendinitis, while Tyler Chatwood leads the league in walks and is winless in six starts since May 11.

Cubs starters have a 3.48 ERA, which is fine, but they've averaged just 5.4 innings a start, which isn't.

But wouldn't a few more Bryant home runs take the pressure off that pitching?

Sure, but the fact is that even after being shut out two days in a row in Milwaukee, the Cubs have scored more runs than all but two teams in the National League (Atlanta Braves and Los Angeles Dodgers). They're leading the majors in on-base percentage.

And Bryant, who was the NL Most Valuable Player in 2016 and finished seventh in MVP voting last year, will almost certainly hit more in the three-plus months left on the schedule than he has over the last 30 days.

"At any given moment, you look around the league, someone is struggling," Bryant told reporters in Milwaukee, including Jesse Rogers of ESPN.com. "It's not fun, but it's really where you find out what you're made of. And then once you get out of it, you feel that much better, and you don't even think about the times when you were struggling."

He's right, of course. Bryant drove in just one run in that 16-game homer drought in July 2016. He hit 14 home runs in the 58 games after that and then hit three more in the postseason as the Cubs won the World Series.

Then there was the celebration and the parade, and you can bet that no one in Chicago was talking about those three weeks in July when Bryant didn't hit a home run. It was just an oddity. A surprise. The kind of thing that happens over the course of a baseball season.

Kind of like what Bryant has been through over the last month.

"This is probably just a blip on this guy's year," the AL scout said.

A surprising blip, but just a blip. Nothing more.

                

Danny Knobler covers Major League Baseball as a national columnist for Bleacher Report.

Follow Danny on Twitter and talk baseball.

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