There were some Cubs fans — and you know who you are — who were worried about Kris Bryant after he got off to a .221/.341/.351 start over his first 20 games, with only one home run.
Your worries, I think it’s safe to say, are over. KB has been one of the hottest hitters in the National League in May (Len and JD suggested on the broadcast that he might be a candidate for N.L. Player of the Month), and Friday night in Washington he smashed three home runs and the Cubs crushed the Nationals 14-6 in the first of a three-game series.
This game didn’t start out that way. The Cubs scored 11 runs over the last three innings, but up till then it was a reasonably close affair. So let’s start at the beginning.
Kyle Schwarber, the Cubs’ new leadoff hitter (for now, anyway), led off the game with a walk and Bryant singled. Anthony Rizzo, after taking an awkward swing for a strike off Max Scherzer, hit into a double play.
But the Cubs weren’t done. They have often scored runs with two out, and did so here on a double byJavier Baez, taking a 1-0 lead. Cole Hamels loaded the bases in the bottom of the inning, but got out of it with no runs scoring.
Then the fun started. Jason Heyward singled with one out in the second inning and Albert Almora Jr. nearly sent a baseball into the Potomac [VIDEO] off Max Scherzer.
That ball: Crushed!
#Cubs 3 @ #Nationals 0 [T2-1o]:— Home Run Tracker (@DingerTracker) May 17, 2019
Albert Almora homers (4): line drive to LF (2-run)
Hit: 445.44ft , 106.91mph, 24.19°
Pitch: 83mph Changeup (RHP Max Scherzer, 6) pic.twitter.com/wWBS0BigED
In the third, Hamels hit Victor Robles on the hand with a pitch. Anthony Rendon homered to make it 3-2, and later, Robles left the game. Hope he’s OK.
Both pitchers, Scherzer and Hamels, settled down after that. Hamels departed after five innings, having thrown 101 pitches. Nats manager Davey Martinez let Scherzer throw 112 pitches and complete six innings. It’s the fourth straight start Scherzer has thrown at least 110 pitches and Scherzer and Trevor Bauer are the only starters this year to do that more than twice.
Thus it was up to the bullpens and Cubs batters started smacking baseballs all over the yard off Nats relievers. Addison Russell, who had double-switched into the game when Hamels departed, led off the seventh with a single. One out later, Bryant launched his first homer of the game [VIDEO].
Check out the launch angle on that one:
#Cubs 5 @ #Nationals 2 [T7-1o]:— Home Run Tracker (@DingerTracker) May 18, 2019
Kris Bryant homers (9): fly ball to LCF (2-run)
Hit: 401.44ft, 99.71mph, 30.86°
Pitch: 90.9mph Four-Seam Fastball (RHP Justin Miller, 5) pic.twitter.com/m9qXpHIOzV
After Rizzo struck out and Baez walked, Nats reliever Justin Miller left the game. It looked like something happened to his shoulder. The Cubs loaded the bases off Joe Ross but could not score further, and the Nats one run back via three straight hits off Brandon Kintzler. When Gerardo Parra was announced as the pinch-hitter for Ross, Carl Edwards Jr. entered the game.
CJ had perhaps the most bizarre three-pitch outing you’ll ever see. First he balked in the Nats’ fourth run. Then he threw two very nice called strikes at 96 miles per hour. And then... [VIDEO].
They say, as you know, that if you watch baseball long enough you’ll see things you have never seen before, and that play was one of those things. CJ’s third pitch hit the dirt and appeared to be going away from Willson Contreras, but then it hit something — off Willson, perhaps? — and bounced toward Edwards, who picked it up and ran right at Brian Dozier, who was hung up between third and home. CJ never tagged Dozier, but he was ruled (correctly) out of the baseline, and the inning was over, with the Cubs leading 5-4.
And then Cubs bats really got going. Almora led off the eighth with a single, and one out later, it was Schwarber’s turn to join the homer parade [VIDEO].
The homer, Schwarber’s sixth, was only a small part of this epic 13-pitch at-bat:
Look where all those pitches were, too, and he kept fouling off changeups. They were working Kyle low and outside the entire at-bat, until he got a pitch to his liking:
That was one of the better at-bats you’ll ever see. Kudos to Kyle.
Kyle Barraclough, the Nats pitcher, must have been frustrated by that, because two pitches later, Bryant smashed his second homer of the game [VIDEO].
That made it 8-4, but the Cubs weren’t done in the eighth. Rizzo was hit by a pitch (for his MLB-leading ninth time), Baez walked and Contreras singled to load the bases. That brought up Mark Zagunis, batting for CJ. This is probably the shortest two-run single you’ll ever see [VIDEO].
At 10-4, Mike Montgomery came in to try to wrap things up. MiMo threw a scoreless eighth and then, with one out and Schwarber on base with a walk in the top of the ninth, KB did it again [VIDEO] off Matt Grace:
It was the second three-homer game of Bryant’s career (this is the other one), and:
Kris Bryant (innings 7-8-9) first #Cubs player to homer in 3 straight innings since Sammy Sosa (innings 3-4-5) 8/10/2002 at Coors Field— Christopher Kamka (@ckamka) May 18, 2019
The @Cubs Kris Bryant had a three-homer game, going yard in the seventh, eighth, and ninth innings.— Stats By STATS (@StatsBySTATS) May 18, 2019
He's the 12th player in history to homer in three straight innings and the second to do it in the 7th, 8th, and 9th, along with J.D. Martinez in September 2017. #EverybodyIn
Bryant hit his 9th, 10th, 11th homers tonight (May 17). Date he reached 11 homers other 4 seasons of career:— Gordon Wittenmyer (@GDubCub) May 18, 2019
July 4, 2015 (finished with 26)
May 27, 2016 (39)
May 25, 2017 (29)
July 20, 2018 (13)
It’s 12-4 now, but still the Cubs weren’t done scoring. Baez singled with two out and it was Contreras’ turn to go deep [VIDEO].
That was Willson’s 11th of the year; he, Baez and Bryant all now have that many, leading the team. Rizzo has 10, and the team’s 67 homers rank third in the N.L. behind the Brewers and Dodgers.
Montgomery added to the hit parade with a single, but he was stranded. That hit gave the Cubs a season high with 18 hits, and the 14 runs matched their best of 2019 (April 6 against the Brewers). Montgomery, tiring a bit at the end, got touched up for two runs, but that hardly mattered in this four-hour, nine-minute marathon.
Bryant, month of May so far, 15 games: .364/.493/.873 (20-for-55) with eight home runs, 18 RBI, 20 runs scored and 14 walks. That will indeed make him a candidate for Player of the Month. Of course, we still have about two weeks remaining in the month, but KB is playing like the 2016 MVP version of him that we were all hoping would return after his 2018 season was ruined by a shoulder injury. At age 27 he appears to be right in the peak of his abilities. Keep it up!
The entire team contributed. Beyond the six home runs, Contreras and Bryant each had four hits, Baez and Almora had two, and Schwarber walked three times and scored three runs. The seven team walks give the Cubs 183 for the season, or 4.36 per game. That’s a pace for 706, which would crush the franchise record (656) set in 2016. The team’s 230 runs are second to the Dodgers (241), but L.A. has played five more games. The Cubs lead the N.L. in runs per game at 5.48, which is a pace for 887 runs. Might be a little too early to put that to a full-season pace, but if they continued at this pace, that would be the most runs scored by a Cubs team since 1930.
And so, as is usually the case with wins like this, the complaint department is closed.
The Brewers and Cardinals both lost Friday, so the Cubs increase their lead over Milwaukee to 1½ games and now lead St. Louis by 4½ games. The Cardinals dropped to fourth place, as the Pirates (who trail the Cubs by four games) won late Friday night in San Diego.
The Cubs will go for two in a row over the Nationals Saturday evening, with another marquee pitching matchup: Jon Lester vs. Stephen Strasburg. Game time is 6:15 p.m. CT, and TV coverage tonight will be via Fox’s Baseball Night in America. Here’s the Fox coverage map, check the listings in your area. A reminder that if the game is not being carried by the Fox station in your market and you have a MLB.tv or MLB Extra Innings subscription, you can watch via those services.