Cubs: All-Star future is now for Anthony Rizzo and Kris Bryant


Cubs: All-Star future is now for Anthony Rizzo and Kris Bryant

The Cubs planned their future around Anthony Rizzo and Kris Bryant, two young power hitters with the internal drive to get better, even-keel public personalities and so much marketing potential.

The future is now with Rizzo and Bryant being named to the National League All-Star team. In yet another sign of the buzz building around Wrigley Field, manager Joe Maddon called Rizzo and Bryant into his office to share the news before Monday night’s game against the St. Louis Cardinals.

“It just shows that we’re on the right pace,” Rizzo said. “I know everyone believes (in) us. This city is really rallying behind us, and we really do have a good thing going.”

The Cubs are on pace for around 90 wins — and would be in the tournament as a wild-card team if the playoffs started tomorrow.

Theo Epstein’s front office feels like the best years are still to come. Rizzo will turn 26 in August and could remain under club control through the 2021 season on a team-friendly contract. Bryant is 23 and can’t become a free agent until after the 2021 season. 

[NBC SPORTS SHOP: Buy a Kris Bryant jersey]

That’s because the Cubs made Bryant run out the service-time clock at Triple-A Iowa, turning him into a national story and forcing him to miss eight games on their major-league calendar.

After the Bryant Watch obsession, he’s put up the numbers: 12 homers, 49 RBI and an .867 OPS. Bryant — who got picked by San Francisco Giants manager Bruce Bochy — made it known that he would be willing to participate in the Home Run Derby.

But Bryant’s also played better-than-expected defense at third base, shown aggressive instincts on the bases for a 6-foot-5 slugger and blended seamlessly into the clubhouse, even with all the attention.

“It’s amazing,” Rizzo said. “He’s come up with all the hype and all the pressure that people try to put on him. He’s never fazed. Not one bit.”

[NBC SPORTS SHOP: Buy a Cubs All-Star Game hat]

The players voted in Rizzo, who earned his second straight All-Star selection and vaulted himself into the MVP discussion by hitting .292 with 15 homers and 45 RBI. His .948 OPS ranked fourth in the league.

Rizzo has sneaky good speed and always wants to put pressure on the other team (12 stolen bases). The first baseman will also probably be in the Gold Glove conversation.

“I’ve been impressed with the whole body of work,” manager Joe Maddon said. “He does not give up an at-bat. (He’s got the) ability to adjust in counts, the ability to hit better pitching, the ability to hit for average and power.

“(The) baserunning has really been taken to another level this year. He’s done a great job on the bases. I’ve always known that he’s a good defender, and I get to see that in person (now). He’s kind of fearless on defense, too, which I love. He’s a complete baseball player.

“He does everything that needs to be done on the bases. And then get him in the clubhouse and on the bench — and he’s a big part of the moment. He’s real loose in the most positive way. He’s smart enough to leave the game here and go home. I like that a lot. He enjoys what he’s doing. That’s why I think it can be sustained for a long period of time.”

[NBC SPORTS SHOP: Buy an Anthony Rizzo jersey]   

Bryant is a polished Boras Corp. client who played in last year’s All-Star Futures Game and got drafted No. 2 overall out of the University of San Diego in 2013.

Bryant has also learned by watching Rizzo, who shrugs off almost everything with his that’s-just-baseball philosophy. Rizzo beat cancer, got traded by the Boston Red Sox and San Diego Padres and finally found a home on the North Side.

“He’s taken me under his wing,” Bryant said. “I’m proud to call him a friend. He’s a great teammate. I just really look forward to having a whole lot of fun with him.

“He’s definitely very deserving. I couldn’t be more happy for him. I’m happy to hit behind him in the order. I’ve been having a blast with him. I really can’t say enough about him.”

The Cincinnati Reds will host this year’s All-Star Game on July 14 at Great American Ball Park. Rizzo and Bryant hope this won’t be the last time they will represent the Cubs as faces of the franchise.

“It’s all happened so quick,” Bryant said. “I hope to play in many of those games, but it might be the only time I get to do that. You only have one debut. I’m going to treat this All-Star Game like it’s my only one, so I’m going to have fun with it.” 




When Kyle Schwarber met new Cubs hitting coach Chili Davis: 'I don't suck'

When Kyle Schwarber met new Cubs hitting coach Chili Davis: 'I don't suck'

MESA, Ariz. — The first thing Kyle Schwarber told his new hitting coach?

"His first statement to me is, 'I don't suck.'"

The Cubs hired Chili Davis as the team's new hitting coach for myriad reasons. He's got a great track record from years working with the Boston Red Sox and Oakland Athletics, and that .274/.360/.451 slash line during an illustrious 19-year big league career certainly helps.

But Davis' main immediate task in his new gig will be to help several of the Cubs' key hitters prove Schwarber's assessment correct.

Schwarber had a much-publicized tough go of things in 2017. After he set the world on fire with his rookie campaign in 2015 and returned from what was supposed to be a season-ending knee injury in time to be one of the Cubs' World Series heroes in 2016, he hit just .211 last season, getting sent down to Triple-A Iowa for a stint in the middle of the season. Schwarber still hit 30 home runs, but his 2017 campaign was seen as a failure by a lot of people.

Enter Davis, who now counts Schwarber as one of his most important pupils.

"He's a worker," Davis said in an interview with NBC Sports Chicago. "Schwarbs, he knows he's a good player. His first statement to me is, 'I don't suck.' He said last year was just a fluke year. He said, 'I've never failed in my life.' And he said, 'I'm going to get back to the player that I was.'

"I think he may have — and this is my thought, he didn't say this to me — I think it may have been, he had a big World Series, hit some homers, and I think he tried to focus on being more of a home run type guy as opposed to being a good hitter.

"His focus has changed. I had nothing to do with that, he came in here with that focus that he wants to be a good hitter first and let whatever happens happen. And he's worked on that. The main thing with Kyle is going to be is just maintaining focus."

The physically transformed Schwarber mentioned last week that he's established a good relationship with Davis, in no small part because Schwarber can relate to what Davis went through when he was a player. And to hear Davis tell it, it sounds like he's describing Schwarber's first three years as a big leaguer to a T.

"Telling him my story was important because it was similar," Davis said. "I was a catcher, got to big league camp, and I was thrown in the outfield. And I hated the outfield. ... But I took on the challenge. I made the adjustment, I had a nice first year, then my second year I started spiraling. I started spiraling down, and I remember one of my coaches saying, 'I'm going to have to throw you a parachute just so you can land softly.' I got sent down to Triple-A at the All-Star break for 15 days.

"When I got sent down, I was disappointed, but I was also really happy. I needed to get away from the big league pressure and kind of find myself again. I went home and refocused myself and thought to myself, 'I'm going to come back as Chili.' Because I tried to change, something changed about me the second year.

"And when I did that, I came back the next year and someone tried to change me and I said, 'Pump the breaks a little bit, let me fail my way, and then I'll come to you if I'm failing.' And they understood that, and I had a nice year, a big year and my career took off.

"I'm telling him, 'Hey, let last year go. It happened, it's in the past. Keep working hard, maintain your focus, and you'll be fine.'"

Getting Schwarber right isn't Davis' only task, of course. Despite the Cubs being one of the highest-scoring teams in baseball last season, they had plenty of guys go through subpar seasons. Jason Heyward still has yet to find his offensive game since coming to Chicago as a high-priced free agent. Ben Zobrist was bothered by a wrist injury last season and put up the worst numbers of his career. Addison Russell had trouble staying healthy, as well, and saw his numbers dip from what they were during the World Series season in 2016.

So Davis has plenty of charges to work with. But he likes what he's seen so far.

"They work," Davis said. "They come here to work. I had a group of guys in Boston that were the same last year, and it makes my job easier. They want to get better, they come out every day, they show up, they want to work. They're excited, and I'm excited to be around them.

And what have the Cubs found out about Davis? Just about everyone answers that question the same way: He likes to talk.

"I'm not going to stop talking," he said. "If I stop talking, something's wrong."

SportsTalk Live Podcast: Andre Dawson talks about his Cubs reunion


SportsTalk Live Podcast: Andre Dawson talks about his Cubs reunion

Carmen DeFalco (ESPN 1000) and Jordan Bernfield join Kap on the panel. Anthony Rizzo returns to the Cubs after an emotional weekend home while Tom Ricketts expects another World Series parade. Plus Hall of Famer Andre Dawson joins Kap to talk about his Cubs reunion and how the current crop unsigned free agents compares to his experiences with collusion.