An edgy Kris Bryant could be a good thing for the Chicago Cubs

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — Let's call it Bryant's defiance.

And let's say that it could be a very good thing for the Chicago Cubs.

Kris Bryant flashed a little bit of uncharacteristic edginess with — but not directed toward — the media covering the Cubs after he hit a home run in his first at-bat Saturday in the Cactus League opener.

Neither the home run nor the game counted, and there's still a long way to go, but good first impressions can go a long way toward pivoting the conversation about player and team in an entirely different direction.

After the kind of off-season the Cubs had, a change is much needed.

Bryant rarely is one to bristle, but a couple of things seemed to get under his skin. One was the criticism of his performance in the second half of last season, while he battled a left-shoulder ailment.

After the season ended, a national report said the Cubs would be open to trading Bryant. The very idea was absurd, given Bryant's service-time status of three-plus years and the fact that he's one of the faces of the Cubs franchise.

A look at Bryant's numbers before the shoulder began acting up in June shows that he was on pace for another Bryant-like season:

• In March-April, Bryant had a line of .291/.441/.506 with 2 homers and 11 RBI.

• In May, it was .282/.368/.536 with 6 homers and 16 RBI.

When asked if he felt people had forgotten about that, he replied: “Totally. This game is totally about, 'What have you done for me lately?' And, boy, did I get to experience that last year.

“Last year I didn't really do anything. Sure, it (the questioning) was warranted, but, boy, did it motivate me this year. I'm excited.”

The Cubs as a team have been feeling the same kind of heat after losing Game 163 of the regular season to the Milwaukee Brewers and bowing out to the Colorado Rockies in the wild-card game.

Bryant says he sees a parallel.

“Absolutely, totally,” he said. “That's the great thing as a team, to look at that and learn from that and use that to our advantage and motivation. I know that we definitely are using that.

“We see some of these projections and stuff like that, and it's like, 'OK, they're selling us totally short and that's not a good thing to do for us, because when our backs are against the wall, we turn it on. It's going to be an exciting season.”

On Sunday, Cubs manager Joe Maddon said he liked the bit of edginess.

“They all came ready,” he said of his players. “We've talked about it. We did not like how the season ended. The one thing I wanted them to understand is that, 'I have not seen you guys this open before.' So does 'edge' equal 'openness,' or does 'openness' equal 'edge?'

“I don't know. But they're so easy to interact with right now. That's the part I'm really enjoying.”

Bryant is one of two big keys for the Cubs this year. The other is pitcher Yu Darvish. If both are healthy and both have years they've been accustomed to having in the past, you can forget about those 80-82 PECOTA projections.

Either way, Bryant says he recognizes where the heightened expectations are coming from.

“I kind of came on my first year really strong, Rookie of the Year,” he said. “You set those expectations super high. When you don't have a year like that, it's kind of like, 'What are you doing?' What's going on? It wasn't as good as it was during some of your best years.'

“That's really what it is. I totally understand that perspective, too. But as a player and someone who understands the ups and downs of this game, I don't put much weight in that.”

Consider the bear poked.

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