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.
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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.”
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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.”
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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.”