Kris Bryant looking to even up score with James Shields

It’s possible the average Chicago Cubs fan won’t be real dialed into tonight’s game in San Diego, due to a rather big hockey game coincidentally being played about 100 miles north in Anaheim (in truth I’ll be mostly dialed into the hockey game myself; I’ll leave out here which team I’m rooting for, but hint: I’m from SoCal and the ‘Hawks are my second favorite NHL team).

Despite just writing a very long-winded sentence, I managed to leave out the reason Cubs fans should try to pull up two television sets one next to the other, or watch one game online and the other on the regular television. Or at the very least, keep an eye on the GameCast and flip over to WGN or MLB Network when Kris Bryant comes to the plate.

Bryant, of course made his Major League debut against Tuesday night’s starter, James Shields, on Friday, April 17 at Wrigley Field. The Padres’ right-hander got the best of Bryant, striking him out three times.

Bryant finally made contact in his final at-bat of the afternoon, but did not get on-base in his first big league game. Since the relatively unsuccessful debut, all Bryant has done seemingly is get on-base.

He is second on the Cubs behind Anthony Rizzo, and eighth in all of baseball, with a ridiculous .424 OBP. And despite hitting only four home runs in 129 plate appearances, he still ranks 23rd in the big leagues in OPS at .902. Again his ability to get on-base plays a huge role in that very ranking–he’s walked 24 times according to

He’s been the model of patience at the plate, displaying more than most hitters who’ve spent five-plus years in the big leagues. After the April 17 game, Bryant admitted he lost what has become his standard approach.

“You want to hit four home runs in one at-bat, and show that you’re here to help the team win,” Bryant remarked after the contest. “But at the same time, I thought I was trying to do a little too much because I kept hearing all of that stuff. It was pretty special to hear it.”

While special, Bryant was not satisfied in the least bit. “I’m usually pretty good about blocking that out, and as time goes by, I’ll get better at it.”

Bryant was a bit prophetic, as he went on to collect his first major league hit the next day–one of the Cubs’ now numerous thrilling last plate appearance wins on the still early season–and get on-base five of six times.

In other words, he was human in his initial game. Since then, he’s reverted back to his regular self, which is hardly human. Sure it took him till May 9 to hit his first big league home run. But even prior to it, he was doing some amazing things for the Cubs, especially offensively.

Headed into Tuesday night’s game, Bryant already has 1.4 wins above replacement offensively (oWAR), which needless to say is quite excellent for a rookie.

Assuming he avoids injury and continues to bring the power he’s shown in the last week and a half (which he almost certainly will), he’s a mere lock for the National League Rookie of the Year award–though obviously Joc Pederson of the Dodgers will have something to say about that.

For now, though, Bryant will merely be looking to make amends for his first big league game–one in which he struggled to identify and respond to James Shields’ killer changeup.

Bryant’s always been a quick learner, so it’s far from unrealistic to expect him to have a better approach tonight at Petco Park.

He is hitting .426 on all balls he puts into play, which suggests some luck–and there have been a number of hits which come to mind where Bryant did not hit the ball particularly well but earned a hit.

And even in spite of his struggles against Shields and his changeup in the first matchup, Bryant is handling the changeup better than all other pitches he’s faced this year aside from the fastball, at 1.27 runs above average per 100 plate appearances according to Fangraphs.

In other words, Bryant is more than capable of getting revenge on Shields tonight. And his ability to do so makes for some high-quality drama.

His at-bats, if at no other time, ought to be worth flipping on tonight’s Cubs game.

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