Cubs

Starlin thinks Rizzo gives Cubs another franchise player

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Starlin thinks Rizzo gives Cubs another franchise player

Its hard to believe, but Starlin Castro is actually more than seven months younger than Anthony Rizzo, and has already played in an All-Star Game and led the National League in hits.

Castro bypassed the Triple-A level that Rizzo dominated for parts of two seasons, and has already lived through the highs and lows that come with being the next big thing.

The vision came to life on Tuesday night at Wrigley Field, a lineup built around two 22-year-olds batting second and third and anchoring the infield at shortstop and first base. The Cubs could have this show running for the next decade.

Thats what I want, Castro said before a 5-3 victory over the New York Mets. Me and him, the two franchise (players). Lets see what happens.

This is the grand experiment for president of baseball operations Theo Epstein and general manager Jed Hoyer. It was part of the calculus when they traded pitcher Andrew Cashner a former first-round pick with 100 mph velocity who some think has the potential to start to the San Diego Padres last winter in the Rizzo deal.

Its too much to read into one move, one decision, Hoyer said. But we felt like we just kind of needed those building-block players to sort of stack on top of each other to create the kind of team we want.

These kind of debut days are fun. Theres a lot of interest in them. But ultimately we know hes going to have his ups and downs. We know there will be adjustments and its really about collecting a lot of players like this and putting them on the field together.

Castro who went 1-for-4 with a walk and a run scored and kept his average above .300 had a simple message for Rizzo before he made his debut in a Cubs uniform.

Theres a lot of pressure, Castro said. Theres a lot of eyes looking at him because he was hot at Triple-A. He can come in here and help us.

I told him: Just play. Dont put pressure on yourself, play baseball like you played at Triple-A. Dont think about nothing.

Castro was reminded of his big-league debut on May 7, 2010 in Cincinnati, the three-run bomb in his first at-bat and the six RBI that set a record.

Of course, three nights later, the young shortstop heard the boos at Wrigley Field and had a talk with Lou Piniella in the managers office after committing three errors during his first game at Clark and Addison.

But I put my head up and kept playing, Castro said.

Theres no arguing that point. Surrounded by reporters, Castro stood in almost the exact same spot in front of his locker where he needed a translator almost two years ago. Hes worked hard to learn the language, and is expected to become more of a leader in the clubhouse.

Its tough when youre losing, Castro said, but its a long season and youre working hard in preparation to help your team. The teams gonna be good. We have very good people here. We got a good group.

Rizzo is now on the other side of the room, protection in the lineup and a potential Gold Glove target at first base. The future is here.

Its pretty exciting, Castro said. A lot of people look at him because hes supposed to like a superstar. Its pretty good for me, too.

Why did Kris Bryant get a first-place vote in this year's National League MVP balloting?

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USA TODAY

Why did Kris Bryant get a first-place vote in this year's National League MVP balloting?

Kris Bryant was the 2016 National League MVP. And despite having what could be considered an even better campaign this past season, he finished seventh in voting for the 2017 edition of the award.

The NL MVP was awarded to Miami Marlins outfielder Giancarlo Stanton on Thursday night, a fine choice, though it was nearly impossible to make a poor choice, that's how many fantastic players there were hitting the baseball in the NL this season.

After Stanton, Cinicinnati Reds first baseman Joey Votto finished second, earning the same amount of first-place votes and losing out to Stanton by just one point. Then came Arizona Diamondbacks first baseman Paul Goldschmidt, Colorado Rockies third baseman Nolan Arenado, Rockies outfielder Charlie Blackmon and Washington Nationals third baseman Anthony Rendon ahead of Bryant.

But there was someone who thought Bryant deserved to repeat as the NL MVP. Yes, Bryant earned a first-place vote — as did everyone else mentioned besides Rendon, for that matter — causing a bit of a social-media stir considering the Cubs third baseman, despite his great season, perhaps wasn't as standout a candidate as some of the other guys who finished higher in the voting.

So the person who cast that first-place vote for Bryant, MLB.com's Mark Bowman, wrote up why he felt Bryant deserved to hoist the Kenesaw Mountain Landis Memorial Baseball Award for the second straight year.

"In the end, I chose Bryant because I believe he made the greatest impact, as his second-half production fueled the successful turnaround the Cubs experienced after the All-Star break," Bowman wrote.

"Though I don't believe the MVP must come from a playoff contender, in an attempt to differentiate the value provided by each of these three players (Bryant, Votto and Stanton), I chose to reward the impact made by Bryant, who produced the NL's fourth-best OPS (.968) after the All-Star break, when the Cubs distanced themselves from a sub-.500 record and produced an NL-best 49 wins."

It's easy for Cubs fans and observers to follow that logic, as the Cubs took off after the All-Star break following a disappointing first half. As good as Bryant was all season long, his second-half numbers, as Bowman pointed out, were especially great. He hit .325 with a .421 on-base percentage and a .548 slugging percentage over his final 69 games of the regular season, hitting 11 home runs, knocking out 21 doubles and driving in 35 runs during that span.

Perhaps the craziest thing about this year's MVP race and Bryant's place in it is that Bryant was just as good if not better than he was in 2016, when he was almost unanimously named the NL MVP. After slashing .292/.385/.554 with 39 homers, 102 RBIs, 35 doubles, 75 walks and 154 strikeouts in 2016, Bryant slashed .295/.409/.537 with 29 homers, 73 RBIs, 38 doubles, 95 walks and 128 strikeouts in 2017.

Of course, the competition was much steeper this time around. But Bryant was given the MVP award in 2016 playing for a 103-win Cubs team that was bursting with offensive firepower, getting great seasons from Anthony Rizzo (who finished third in 2016 NL MVP voting), as well as Dexter Fowler and Ben Zobrist. While the Cubs actually scored more runs this season and undoubtedly turned it on after the All-Star break on a team-wide basis, Bryant was far and away the best hitter on the team in 2017, with many other guys throughout the lineup having notably down years and/or experiencing down stretches throughout the season. Hence, making Bryant more, say it with me, valuable.

So Bowman's argument about Bryant's impact on the Cubs — a team that still scored 822 runs, won 92 games and advanced to the National League Championship Series — is a decently convincing one.

Check out Bowman's full explanation, which dives into some of Bryant's advanced stats.

HandiKapping presented by Xpressbet

HandiKapping presented by Xpressbet

In the latest edition of HandiKapping presented by Xpressbet, NBC Sports Chicago's David Kaplan makes his picks for the weekend.

Kap made his picks with the help of Eddie Olczyk this week.