CINCINNATI -- The two most consistent contributors for the Cubs in the first half are being rewarded with a trip to Coors Field for the 2021 MLB All-Star Game.
Cubs closer Craig Kimbrel, in the midst of an historic season, was selected to his eighth All-Star squad. The eight selections are three more than anyone else on the National League team and only Mike Trout (9) has more between the two teams.
“It definitely feels good,” Kimbrel said of the news. “I think making the All-Star Game just means you’ve gotten off to a good start to the year. It also means you’ve got relievers and starters doing the job ahead of you.”
Also chosen for the July 13 game in Denver was Kris Bryant, who earned his fourth selection by virtue of his 16 homers and 42 RBIs entering Sunday.
“It’s always special, each and every one,” Bryant said. “Back to 2015 in Cincinnati, in 2016 in my hometown [of San Diego], ’19 in Cleveland [where the Cubs won the] World Series. Now my son, this will be his first one. I can’t wait to get to Denver.”
Kimbrel’s numbers this year have been eye-popping. Entering Sunday, Kimbrel had limited his opponents to a .098 average (10-for-102), a .177 OBP and a .324 OPS this season.
“I’ve been a part of great teams,” Kimbrel said. “I’ve been able to stay healthy [this season], go out and do my job and stay as healthy as I can.”
The 33-year-old has walked just 10 batters while striking out 53 in 30 2/3 innings, good for an average of 15.55 strikeouts per nine innings. Since Sept. 3, 2020, Kimbrel has posted a 0.47 ERA (two earned runs in 38 innings over 40 games), going 21-for-23 in save opportunities while holding the opponent to a .103 average (13-for-126), a .168 OBP, a .143 slugging mark and a .311 OPS.
Since May 28, Kimbrel has gone 9 2/3 innings (11 outings) without allowing a hit, holding opponents hitless in 29 at-bats.
“He’s been huge,” Bryant said of his fellow All-Star. “Anytime we have the lead at the end of a game, he’s been there for us. He’s come a long way since he first signed with us. He’s a Hall of Famer in my mind. He just brings a lot to our bullpen.”
Kimbrel has converted 90.2 percent of his save opportunities (368-for-408), the best rate in Major League history for any reliever with at least 300 save opportunities, just ahead of Joe Nathan (89.1/377-for-423) and Mariano Rivera (89.1/652-for-732).
No All-Star on either side can boast the versatility of Bryant, who has started this season at five different positions. He’s appeared at third base (22 starts), right field (18), left field (14), first base (10) and center field (10).
Despite a 4-for-52 stretch in June, Bryant is still the most feared hitter in the Cubs’ lineup.
Bryant posted a 13-game hitting streak, one game shy of his career high, from May 17-31, hitting .377 (20-for-53) with one triple, two homers and 11 RBIs during that stretch. The 13-game run was the Cubs’ longest streak since Anthony Rizzo (13 games) from July 4-22, 2019.
Bryant struggled in 2020 and worked over the offseason to rebound, making this honor all the more significant.
“After last year, I wasn’t in a great headspace, mentally,” Bryant admitted. “I know the type of player I am. It’s nice to be recognized for that.”
Bryant and Kimbrel got the news before Sunday’s loss, the Cubs’ ninth straight, when manager David Ross made the announcement in front of the entire team.
“It’s definitely hard,” Bryant said of trying to take the good news in light of the losing skid. “So, there’s a little good news.”
Bryant also said earning the roster spot thanks to voting from other players makes the honor that much more special.
“It’s really cool for players to get in on [the selection process],” Bryant said. “It definitely feels good when you hear your peers have voted you in.
“It’s a little tough going through the stretch we’re going through. It’s sort of a personal accomplishment. Right now, I’m focused on getting on a winning streak, and it starts with one [win].”