Chicago Cubs: Kris Bryant Is Key to World Series Comeback

Kris Bryant hit a game-tying home run on Sunday, and if the Chicago Cubs want to push the World Series beyond tonight’s Game 6, they will need to see more heroics from their young star.

Facing the first of what they hoped would be three consecutive elimination games on Sunday, the Chicago Cubs lived up to the task, downing the Cleveland Indians by a score of 3-2 in Game 5 to narrow their series deficit to three games to two. All-Star third baseman and leading NL MVP candidate Kris Bryant played a big role in getting the team back on track.

The 24-year-old belted a game-tying solo home run off Cleveland starter Trevor Bauer in the fourth inning. Bryant’s blast proved to be the catalyst for a crucial inning, as the Cubs scored two more times in the frame to take a 3-1 lead. Though the Tribe would get one back in the sixth, Chicago held on with the help of an eight-out performance by closer Aroldis Chapman.

While the Cubs are used to seeing Bryant come through for them, that has hardly been the story in this Fall Classic. As’s Bill Reiter describes,

“He was 1 for 14 against Cleveland pitching entering Sunday night’s must-win game. His on-base percentage in the World Series was a brutal .235. He had struck out in five of his 17 at bats, and he had crossed home plate only once. Runs batted in? Not a one.”

Bryant was by no means the only member of the Cubs lineup struggling against Indians pitching, but when a team is in an offensive funk, they rightfully look to their best hitters to lead the way out of it. With the exception of a five-run “outburst” in Game 2, the Cubs have scored three runs or fewer in each game of the series, and have been shut out twice.

Bryant’s Game 5 wasn’t a total breakout – he went 1-for-3 and struck out twice – but the Cubs will be encouraged to see his second homer of the postseason, and in a very important spot. If he’s back to his slugging ways and can jump-start the Cubs’ attack, winning two more games suddenly seems much more realistic.

After all, this is the guy who slashed .292/.385/.554 with 39 home runs and 102 RBI during the regular season. His 8.4 fWAR trailed only Mike Trout. Not bad for the reigning NL Rookie of the Year. Bryant’s success more or less carried over into the first two rounds of the postseason. He went 6-for-16 (.375) with a homer and three RBI in the NLDS, and 7-for-23 (.304) with three doubles in the NLCS.

Even after Sunday’s round-tripper, Bryant’s World Series line still stands at a lowly 2-for-17 (.118). Though he’s picked up four walks, he has also fanned seven times in 21 plate appearances. Bryant was a strikeout machine in his rookie campaign, but this year he improved significantly in that regard, lowering his K-rate from 30.6 to 20.2 percent. If he can resist the temptation to press in high-leverage situations, that should bode well for both Bryant and the Cubs in the remaining World Series action.

Though they remain behind in the series and won’t be returning to the friendly confines of Wrigley Field, the Cubs have to feel good about a few things heading into tonight’s Game 6. Not only has Bryant shown signs of life, but Kyle Schwarber will be back in the DH spot. The 23-year-old has gone 3-for-8 (.375) with a double and two RBI in the series thus far. After a two-homer performance in the NLCS, first baseman Anthony Rizzo has also been swinging a warm bat in the Fall Classic. Of his five hits in the series, three have been doubles.

The Cubs will try to even things up in Game 6 and force a decisive final game in tonight’s matchup, when Jake Arrieta faces off against Josh Tomlin at 8:00 PM ET at Progressive Field in Cleveland.