By Chris Emma–
(670 The Score) Before an offseason of work, golf and game nights with the Harpers could begin, Cubs star Kris Bryant was stuck watching the thrilling seven-game World Series like the rest of America.
The Cubs’ championship defense had ended in disheartening fashion, with the Dodgers winning the National League Championship Series in five games, so they went home and began an offseason that seems far too long.
Bryant planned to shut down from baseball but couldn’t help himself from viewing the World Series, where a new champion was crowned.
“Obviously, the Dodgers did great smashing us and getting there,” Bryant said. “But the Astros were an unbelievable team. I thought it was just great for baseball.”
There was no championship media tour or wedding planning for Bryant this offseason. He and his wife, Jessica, traveled to Europe and spent time relaxing back home in Las Vegas. Bryant even managed to find time for his hometown friend, Nationals star Bryce Harper, a free agent next offseason, trolling the baseball world in the process through pictures on Harper’s Instagram.
“I do get extremely jealous of those, too, by the way,” Anthony Rizzo joked to the Cubs Convention crowd.
But this offseason was far more than fun and games for Bryant, who produced another stellar season in 2017 but one short of his MVP form of 2016. He posted a slash line of .295/.409/.537, raising his walk rate and dropping his strikeout rate. But Bryant didn’t hit for the kind of power we’ve come to expect.
Bryant, who turned 26 this month, saw his Isolated Power (ISO) drop .20 points to .242. He hit 29 home runs after crushing 39 a season before and posted 73 RBIs after driving in 102 in 2016. Bryant was proud of the personal performance but also recognized it could’ve been better.
Last offseason, Bryant set the goal of working his power to the opposite field — what he believed to be the evolution of his swing. While he hit five home runs to right field last season — four more than in 2016 — Bryant wasn’t pleased with what the adjustment brought, and the numbers reflected a different hitter.
Bryant took a different approach to his swing this offseason.
“Hit it where it’s pitched,” Bryant said. “That’s kind of a good focus on mine. Not necessarily trying to hit it (to right field). And punish the balls when they make mistakes.
“Nothing really crazy in terms of me thinking and overthinking things. It’s been a nice, calm offseason for me when it comes to that.”
Mellow was another word Bryant used to describe the last three months since the Cubs were eliminated from the playoffs. The concept of a World Series hangover seemed arbitrary as the Cubs were sluggish through much of 2017, but it was clear at the annual convention this team is refreshed.
Kyle Hendricks celebrated his new marriage while Rizzo duped Instagram with a “fake married” photo with his fiancée, but this was otherwise the kind of offseason the Cubs needed to regroup in 2018. Kyle Schwarber slimmed down, Ben Zobrist got his wrist healthy and Jason Heyward has been working on his swing.
Count Bryant among those pleased with the fruits of his labors to be better this season.
“You look around the league, other teams are getting better, too,” he said. “So it’s important for us to kind of keep up with them. The group that we have here is a really good one.”