With Contreras out, Bryant getting 'locked in'

Reigning NL MVP 9-for-11 in series; Baez clouts mammoth 3-run HR

With Contreras out, Bryant getting 'locked in'

PHOENIX -- How will the Cubs deal without hot-hitting Willson Contreras in the lineup? Lately, they've turned to Kris Bryant.

Bryant collected three hits in each of the past three games, including a solo home run in Sunday's 7-2 victory over the D-backs at Chase Field. He went 9-for-11 in the series, drew three walks and was hit by a pitch for an .867 on-base percentage.

"You see what 'K.B.' is doing -- he's kind of getting locked in," Cubs manager Joe Maddon said.

D-backs manager Torey Lovullo wasn't surprised.

"He's the reigning National League MVP and he's a hot hitter, so anytime somebody at that level is hot, you could roll a ball up there and they're still going to hit it," Lovullo said. "Hopefully, he takes it out on the next set of pitchers."

Bryant's homer Sunday was his 21st and first since July 30. He's been nagged by a tender left little finger from a slide in mid-July, but said it's not a problem.

Bryant on his big game, series

"I'm playing through it," he said. "It's something that's there, like [the athletic trainers] said, and I'll move on with it. It's fine. Seriously -- no more hand questions."

OK, then what's been the difference?

"It's something I worked on in San Franciscom that I want to do is stay through the middle," Bryant said. "I felt I was pulling off balls and hitting balls to the left side, which I don't want to do. I was going into games, not like a Spring Training game, but I wanted to work on doing that and I saw some good results and stuck with it, and stayed the course.

"Obviously, I hit some balls to right field today and that home run to center is exactly what I want," he said of his leadoff blast in the ninth. "It's nice to see when you work on something and it comes to fruition in a game."

If the Cubs are to repeat as National League Central champs, they'll need Bryant's offense -- and others -- especially with Contreras sidelined at least four weeks with a right hamstring strain. Contreras was batting .311 since the All-Star break with 10 homers and 29 RBIs.

"We've got a lot of winners in this clubhouse who can pick up the slack for Willson and make it a little easier for him so he doesn't feel he has to rush back," Chicago's Jake Arrieta said. "We want him back when he's capable and healthy enough to be back in the lineup."

Javier Baez belted a three-run, 463-foot homer (per Statcast™) in the eighth Sunday, and has 12 RBIs and five home runs in his past 11 games. That helps.

"[Baez] might have that bad at-bat and the next one is 450 feet -- that's who he is," Maddon said. "We have to become a more consistent offensive group, move the baseball."

Baez's three-run shot

Of the Cubs' remaining games, 32 are against teams with a record at or below .500, starting Monday with the Reds at Wrigley Field. They also need to make the most of their home-field advantage since they have more home games than any other NL Central team. Of course, that may not matter. It felt like a Chicago crowd at Chase Field this weekend.

Asked if he knew the Cardinals were making a charge in the Central, Baez shook his head.

"I really don't know anything about the other teams," Baez said.

Does he pay attention to the schedule?

"I make sure I'm always on time and that's it," Baez said.

That kind of approach may be the best.

Carrie Muskat has covered the Cubs since 1987, and for MLB.com since 2001. She writes a blog, Muskat Ramblings. You can follow her on Twitter @CarrieMuskat and listen to her podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.