Las Vegan Bryant, Cubs developing into real deal

SAN DIEGO — It’s no longer a matter of hyping a distant dream that might never develop. Kris Bryant is the real deal, and the Chicago Cubs’ future is arriving right now.

Batting second in the lineup, Bryant blasted a home run to center field in the first inning Thursday night. His power is not a rumor. The 6-foot-5-inch third baseman from Las Vegas is built like a nightclub bouncer, with the ability to run and play the field.

After a delayed promotion and a slow start in the major leagues, Bryant is making up for lost time. His two-run shot was his fifth homer in 32 games and lifted Chicago to a 3-0 victory over the San Diego Padres at Petco Park, where a majority of fans seemed to be rooting for Bryant and the Cubs.

“I really didn’t expect the Cubs to jell this well so quickly,” said Micah Roberts, an analyst for “The Linemakers” on SportingNews.com. “I thought they would be close to a .500 club by the All-Star break and make their wild-card move late in the summer, but Cubs fans should be very encouraged about postseason play.”

The Cubs are 23-17 — 3½ games behind St. Louis in the National League Central — and their best days are obviously ahead of them.

John Avello, Wynn Las Vegas sports book director, is so convinced about the Cubs’ future that he is predicting they will win a World Series in the next five years, and he was inspired to post a proposition on it.

In November, Avello put up a prop: Will the Cubs win the World Series in either 2015, 2016 or 2017? The “No” side opened minus-800 and the “Yes” returned plus-600. At that time, there was some value in betting on the dream.

“It’s all Cubs money,” Avello said. “It’s a fun prop for the customers. Let’s face it, I don’t know if this is the year for the Cubs or not, but they are working toward something good in the next couple of years.”

The prop price has dropped to “No” minus-380 and “Yes” plus-310, so the value now is betting “No” or taking a shot on the Cubs at 15-1 odds to win this year’s World Series, though this is probably not their year.

But these Cubs are far from hopeless losers. Their prospects are becoming stars, and it’s now a franchise with sharp leadership at the top, starting with president of baseball operations Theo Epstein and manager Joe Maddon.

“I’ll give Maddon credit. The Cubs’ demeanor looks different,” said Bruce Marshall, handicapper for The Gold Sheet. “Maddon makes a big difference.”

And the same goes for Bryant, Anthony Rizzo, Jorge Soler and the rest of the Cubs’ kids. Bryant, Rizzo, a 6-3 first baseman, and Soler, a 6-4 outfielder, resemble a group of NFL linebackers with real power.

It’s a young team with some flaws, but Epstein is piling up the puzzle pieces, and the optimistic Maddon is the perfect man to put it all together.

I came to San Diego this week to see the future, specifically the two stars with a Las Vegas past. First it was Bryce Harper, the 22-year-old right fielder for the Washington Nationals who homered and tripled Sunday to leave a big impression.

Harper, from Las Vegas High School and College of Southern Nevada, was the No. 1 pick in the 2010 draft. He leads the NL with 15 homers and ranks second with 38 RBIs.

Bryant, from Bonanza High School and the University of San Diego, was the No. 2 pick in the 2013 draft. Unlike Harper, Bryant never appeared on a Sports Illustrated cover as a teen phenom.

“Harper is playing up to full expectations right now,” Avello said. “He’s a baseball freak. He’s a Pete Rose-type. He eats it, sleeps it and he’s all about the game. If he doesn’t get hurt, you’re going to see him up with the leaders in a lot of categories.

“Bryant is a Bryce Harper-type. We’ll see if he turns out to be the player Harper is, but he has that same potential.”

If you play daily fantasy sports, whether it be DraftKings or FanDuel, Harper and Bryant can be in your lineup, though neither will come cheap anymore.

Maddon has the enviable job of penciling Bryant, who debuted in the majors April 17 and now has a 10-game hit streak, into his lineup every day. There is some debate as to whether Bryant’s future is at third base or left field, but that will get figured out in time.

“The Maddon influence has been huge for the young team’s confidence and morale,” Roberts said. “Between a lineup that will only get better, a decent pitching rotation, and Maddon pulling all the strings, this team has the look of making a run at winning the division. The Cubs have already made a statement and created a vibe for 2015 to where it’s real easy to forget about past futility.”

When greeted by a media crush in San Diego this week, Bryant said, “I’m living the dream.”

The reality is the Cubs are no longer a bad bet to win a World Series in the near future.

Las Vegas Review-Journal sports betting columnist Matt Youmans can be reached at myoumans@reviewjournal.com or 702-387-2907. He co-hosts “The Las Vegas Sportsline” weekdays at 2 p.m. on ESPN Radio (1100 AM). Follow him on Twitter: @mattyoumans247.

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