PHOENIX – Almost everyone around the Cubs has been so conditioned to talk about the kids and the future that it becomes easy to overlook Anthony Rizzo and the special season he is having right now.
But you couldn’t miss it on Saturday night at Chase Field, the franchise first baseman delivering the go-ahead, three-run homer in the ninth inning of a 9-6 comeback win over the Arizona Diamondbacks.
An All-Star last year, Rizzo has taken his game to new heights, lifting the Cubs up along with him. So when Arizona reliever Enrique Burgos left a slider up, it almost landed in the swimming pool on the right-field patio.
Rizzo finished with six RBI, nearly hitting a grand slam in the fifth inning, or at least dropping his bat as if it was gone. He settled for a three-run double when it bounced off the left-field fence.
“At the end of the day, Rizzo took care of business,” pitcher Jake Arrieta said. “He put us all on his back and carried us to victory. That’s what I expect from him.”
Yes, Rizzo covered up for a few mistakes, the most glaring being the ball second baseman Addison Russell dropped on a flip from shortstop Starlin Castro, leading to three unearned runs charged to Arrieta in the fifth inning.
Rizzo is by far the most reliable defender on the 25-and-under infield. He has as many home runs – nine – as stolen bases. He’s getting on base 44 percent of the time and putting up a 1.030 OPS.
“He’s in that really elite group of baseball players regarding how they work an at-bat,” manager Joe Maddon said. “And then on top of that, he’s a very good defender, too. He’s a really complete player. Now he’s turning into a good baserunner. He’s really elevated his game on all levels.”
It’s probably not a total coincidence that this is happening at a time when the Cubs are 24-18 and planning to make some noise in the National League. Rizzo has played on fifth-place teams in each of the last four seasons.
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“It’s just fun coming to the park every day,” Rizzo said. “This group of guys is awesome. We’re really young. We have a lot of fun, on and off the field. We’re like a band of brothers.”
The Kris Bryant Effect is real. Russell should be an everyday contributor for years to come. Castro is already a three-time All-Star. Maddon has called Jorge Soler “a monster player in the making.”
But the Cubs – who came back from deficits of 2-0, 5-4 and 6-4 – are trying to build their relentless American League-style lineup around Rizzo.
“He’s not giving away at-bats,” Maddon said. “He doesn’t give away pitches, let alone at-bats. He’s in the moment all the time offensively, making adjustments. You always hear hitting coaches say: Take what the pitcher gives you. He’s willing to do that. He doesn’t try to force things all the time. That’s why he’s been so successful.”