Just Warming Up: Kris Bryant Pulls Away as MVP Frontrunner

A mere 10 days ago, Wrigleyville Nation’s own Randy Richardson wrote about the excitement of teammates and stars dueling for a top award in Rizzo, Bryant 1-2 in MVP race. What a difference a little more than a week can make….

Although no one looks askance at first baseman Anthony Rizzo’s .295 batting average (as of today), 25 home runs and 91 RBIs, it wasn’t his name shouted at the end of last weekend’s 10-inning contest versus the Los Angeles Dodgers. His second homer of the evening handed the Cubbies a 6-4 victory and a fourth consecutive win. Per Mark Gonzalez of the Chicago Tribune:

“With the second home run, Bryant took over the National League home run lead with 35 and ignited chants of ‘MVP’ from several thousand Cubs fans who watched their team maintain their 14-game lead over the St. Louis Cardinals in the National League Central.”

It was Bryant’s fourth multi-homer game of the season. Simply put, the kid is on fire. Batting over .300, the league’s current home run champ and all the offensive good stuff. Anyone in possession of Kris Bryant on their fantasy team is enjoying the ride. So are members of Cubs Nation.

The 24 year-old Bryant also has something special on defense. Back in May he memorably played three positions in a single inning against the Milwaukee Brewers. There just aren’t a lot of guys in the MLB that can shift seamlessly between left field, third base and first with aplomb. Much of the credit of course goes to Manager Extraordinaire Joe Maddon who runs the whole club with a versatile philosophy. Still he can only work with the talent he’s given – and Bryant brings much more than the average baseball player. He said of that game in May:

“Using each other’s gloves, throwing gloves back and forth — we should’ve thrown a glove down for the base…It was exactly like Little League.”

Except Bryant is hardly your run of the mill kiddo with MLB dreams. It was my partner Bob who pointed out to me this week that, should Kris prove successful in the MVP quest, he’ll lodge his fourth major award in a row. As Baseball America reported after Bryant’s 2015 Rookie nod, he’s already the “first player to earn College Player of the Year, Minor League Player of the Year and rookie awards in successive years.” It seems pre-emptively absurd to talk about a Hall of Fame berth for a guy who’s really just starting his career. Such is the embarrassment of riches Bryant brings to the field.

At the beginning of the 2016 season, Comcast Sports Network’s Patrick Mooney spoke for many skeptics who advised caution (including myself), observing, “So much hype surrounded Kris Bryant from the moment the Cubs drafted him No. 2 overall in 2013 that it felt like everyone assumed he would inevitably become one of the best players in the game.” Well he has and screw the PTSD hangover of seasons past. He just keeps getting better.

This coming Labor Day weekend, I’ll make my third 2016 trip to Wrigley Field for Sunday’s game against the San Francisco Giants. I’m always excited to hear Bryant’s walk-up song, “Warm It Up Kris,” the classic early 1990s rap tune tendered by Kris Kross. I’m not even sure Bryant was born when the song was briefly popular, but any writer has to love the name symmetry and fans (especially with a couple beers in the belly) can’t help but bounce to the peppy beat.

But we’ll be cheering Bryant’s plate approaches a little extra loudly because, as of this week, he’s the National League MVP frontrunner. All by himself. According to the latest report, “[the] third baseman for the Chicago Cubs and occasional outfielder, received eight of the 10 first-place votes in USA TODAY Sports’ NL MVP power rankings.”

Keep warming it up Kris!

Becky Sarwate is the current President of the Illinois Woman’s Press Association, founded in 1885. She’s also a part-time freelance writer, award-winning columnist and blogger who lives in the Ravenswood neighborhood of Chicago with her partner Bob and their beloved pup, Jude. Her collected works are published athttp://www.beckysarwate.com