Anthony Rizzo delivers MVP moment as Cubs sweep Brewers in doubleheader

Anthony Rizzo delivers MVP moment as Cubs sweep Brewers in doubleheader

“MVP! MVP! MVP!” the crowd chanted Tuesday night at Wrigley Field, Cubs fans recognizing Anthony Rizzo’s acrobatic catch and thanking the All-Star first baseman for what has so far been a magical season for the best team in baseball.   

Jason Hammel stepped off the rubber in the fifth inning and allowed Rizzo to soak in the standing ovation. Rizzo waved his glove after a Derek Jeter moment, the highlight-reel play that will be remembered from this 4-1 Game 2 win and a doubleheader sweep of the Milwaukee Brewers.

Milwaukee rookie Keon Broxton fouled off a 3-1 pitch that drifted out toward the blue rolled-up tarp, where Rizzo had made a spectacular diving catch into the stands almost exactly a year ago against the Brewers, while Hammel stood on the mound watching and a young team began to find its identity.  

Rizzo tracked the ball, planted his right leg onto the ledge and lifted himself up, sticking out his right arm into two rows of seats while balancing his left leg in the air. Rizzo snapped his glove, raised his arms and hopped back onto the dirt with a huge smile on his face, signaling two outs with his left hand.

“I was surprised myself when I caught that, to be honest,” Rizzo said. “It’s one of those fun plays where if you make it, you look great. If you don’t make it, you kind of look like a fool.”

The balance-beam catch became an amazing routine for a player listed at 6-foot-3, 240 pounds, at a time when Rizzo has been watching the “Final Five” U.S. women’s gymnastics team during the Rio Olympics. 

“Maybe ‘Final Six?’” Rizzo said. “I got a good dismount and could have stuck the landing a little better, but I was pleased with it.”

“I was hoping for at least a 9.5 from the Luxembourg judge,” manager Joe Maddon said.

“It takes a special athlete to be able to do that. He may not look like a great athlete, but he is a great athlete,” Hammel said, laughing in the middle of his postgame press conference. “I love you, Rizz.”

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Rizzo always brings pieces of flair to the Cubs, as a clubhouse DJ, Party Room designer and theme-trip enthusiast. That attitude – relaxed while focused, supremely confident, hypercompetitive without letting it become all-consuming paralysis – pushes the Cubs toward October.

“He wants to be the leader,” Hammel said. “He wants that pressure. I think he really relishes and cherishes that (role). That’s just the type of guy he is, the personality he carries. A lot of guys joke around with him – and give him a hard time – because he really does try to be a leader.

“He exudes his own confidence in a funny way, different than other people. (But) it’s fun to have a guy like that, a young guy that really wants to take the team where he wants to go.”

Combine that relentlessness with Gold Glove-caliber defense and heart-of-the-order production (25 homers, 85 RBI, .966 OPS) and you have a leading National League MVP candidate.

“I never really seen that before in a stadium where the crowd basically wants you to take a bow out in the field,” second baseman Ben Zobrist said. “He does it all. He really works hard over at first to try and get to every ball he can.

“What he does offensively and brings to the table every day – you really can’t ask a guy to do any more to carry a club.”

Even if Rizzo might not have been the most valuable Cub on a night where Hammel (13-5, 2.75 ERA) didn’t allow a hit until the fourth inning, striking out six of the first 12 batters he faced, chipping in with two hits of his own – while limiting the Brewers to just two – and extending his scoreless streak to 22 consecutive innings.

Or in the middle of a lineup where Kris Bryant knocked out Brewers starter Chase Anderson (left quadriceps contusion) after 11 pitches with a first-inning line drive back to the mound – and keeps making his own MVP case as an All-Star third baseman with 28 homers and 73 RBI and the ability to play all over the outfield. 

But in so many ways, this franchise revolves around Rizzo, who only turned 27 last week and could have fallen into the trap of putting up good numbers on a decent team and enjoying life in The Show. The Cubs (75-43) won their 75th game last year on Sept. 1 and surged ahead toward 97 victories and through two playoff rounds. That won’t be enough in 2016. Rizzo wants to be great on the team that lives forever in Chicago.


“We have six-plus more weeks left,” Rizzo said. “We got to finish strong. It’s really cool to hear the fans say that, but there’s a long way to go.”

Javier Báez joins Cubs All-Decade Team at second base, where El Mago was born

Javier Báez joins Cubs All-Decade Team at second base, where El Mago was born

With the 2010s coming to a close, NBC Sports Chicago is unveiling its Cubs All-Decade Team, highlighting the players who made the biggest impacts on the organization from 2010-19.

There may not be a player in baseball more exciting to watch than Javier Báez.

Whether at the plate, in the field or on the bases, Báez is a human highlight real. He’s one of the most powerful hitters in baseball; he has a cannon for an arm, exemplary defensive range and is a tagging maestro. He’s a dynamic baserunner who uses his elite baseball instincts to go station-to-station while magically avoiding tags along the way.

Yeah, there’s a reason Báez is known as “El Mago.” It’s not a matter of if he’ll make an incredible play each game, but a matter of when. Things come easy for the 27-year-old full of flair who makes the most difficult plays seem routine.

Báez is a career .270/.310/.484 hitter who’s hit 110 home runs in parts of six big-league seasons. One of those long balls came in his big-league debut (Aug. 5, 2014), a go-ahead blast against the Rockies in the 12th inning. The legend of El Mago was born.

Báez is the Cubs starting shortstop, though that hasn’t always been the case. Starlin Castro was the starter in 2014; Addison Russell claimed the title from Castro in the second half of 2015, holding it down until late in the 2018 season. Russell hit the injured list that August as the Cubs simultaneously acquired Daniel Murphy in an attempt to jump-start the offense.

By the time Russell returned, Báez was a clear-cut NL MVP candidate. The latter still bounced around the infield from time-to-time, but with Murphy entrenched at second, shortstop became Báez’s primary position. He’s been the starter ever since.

Báez has played 2,646 2/3 career innings at shortstop compared to 1,856 at second base (and 629 1/3 at third). He’s exclusively a shortstop these days, but the El Mago second base days aren’t forgotten.

Báez was the co-recipient of the 2016 NLCS MVP award (along with Jon Lester) and has started back-to-back All-Star Games (2018 at second, 2019 at shortstop). He was the runner-up for the 2018 NL MVP award, posting career highs across the board: .290/.326/.554, 34 homers, 111 RBIs, 129 OPS+.

And yet, it feels like Báez is only getting started. Nevertheless, his career to date has more than earned him a spot on our Cubs All-Decade Team at second base. With that, we'll leave you with this:

Anthony Rizzo joins Cubs All-Decade Team behind efforts on and off field

Anthony Rizzo joins Cubs All-Decade Team behind efforts on and off field

With the 2010s coming to a close, NBC Sports Chicago is unveiling its Cubs All-Decade Team, highlighting the players who made the biggest impacts on the organization from 2010-19.

You saw this one coming, right?

As the Cubs’ longest tenure player, Anthony Rizzo was a shoo-in for this group. He hasn’t relinquished his starting first baseman job since making his Cubs debut in June 2012. The guy’s longevity alone is impressive.

But besides that, Rizzo has been a model of consistency during his time on the North Side. Since 2012, he’s hit 217 home runs (averaging 27 per season) and hit 32 three times from 2014-17. The lone exception? 2015, when he hit 31. So close…

As a Cub, Rizzo is a .277/.376/.496 hitter with a 132 OPS+. He produces at a high clip each season, whether he’s hitting third, cleanup or leadoff, all while simultaneously playing stellar defense. The 30-year-old is a three-time Gold Glove Award winner (2016, 2018-19).

Rizzo is the guy who comes up huge in key moments but will be there to address the media after tough losses. He’s the de facto captain of the Cubs, the guy who suffered a nasty ankle sprain in September that could have ended his regular season. Instead, he returned four days later for a key series against the rival Cardinals, as the Cubs were fighting to keep their October dreams alive.

When he’s not leading his team on the field, Rizzo is giving back to the community off of it. He’s one of the most charitable athletes in the world and recently raised $1.3 million for children’s cancer research at his “8th annual Walk-off for Cancer” in his home state of Florida.

Rizzo was the first building block of the Cubs core which snapped their infamous 108-year championship drought, but he’ll be remembered for more than that. He’s a leader on and off the field, the clear choice for starting first baseman on our Cubs All-Decade Team.

Also considered: Derrek Lee, Bryan LaHair