Cubs

Cubs: Anthony Rizzo smashes out of slump with the help of Matt Szczur's special bat

Cubs: Anthony Rizzo smashes out of slump with the help of Matt Szczur's special bat

LOS ANGELES - In a moment straight out of "The Natural," Anthony Rizzo needed a bat and picked out a good one.

Matt Szczur played the role of bat boy in this story, but the ending was the same: a big-time home run.

Rizzo had been scuffling in a major way throughout the postseason, going just 2-for-26 in seven games leading up to Wednesday's Game 4 at Dodger Stadium.

One of those hits was a broken bat single in the ninth inning of Game 3 Tuesday night.

Rizzo used a new bat for his first two plate appearances in Game 4 and wound up striking out in both.

So he turned to Szczur's bat for some luck in the fifth inning.

"I knew he had it when he got in the box and I looked at Tommy La Stella and said, "Watch, he's gonna get a knock right now.' And then he hit the homer," Szczur said.

Szczur played in 107 games with the Cubs in the regular season, but didn't make the postseason roster for either the NLDS or NLCS. The Cubs have still had him travel to all the games and his impact showed up in a big way Wednesday night.

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Rizzo followed that homer with a pair of singles and suddenly bumped his postseason batting average up to .161 after that .077 start.

Rizzo has used Szczur's bat at various times throughout the season and that particular piece of lumber has been in game circulation for three years, something Szczur was hesitant to talk about and potentially jinx.

Rizzo - who beat cancer as a teenagerin the Boston Red Sox system - saw a feature Wednesday on Szczur donating bone marrow to a young girl in the Ukraine right after college.

"I've done it a few times, especially later on in the year," Rizzo said. "The first two at-bats weren't so hot. Szcz came out today with a nice feature on him about him giving his bone marrow, so all the things were just adding up. 

"I hit well with his bat, so he has hits in it. Same size, just different model and different name, and it worked."

The Cubs offense badly needed Rizzo to get hot in the middle of a lineup that set a new franchise record with 21 straight scoreless innings before the fourth inning Wednesday night.

Szczur is a good-natured guy who didn't seem to take the decision to leave him off the playoff roster personally. He's been at every workout, sim game and pregame batting practice with a smile on his face.

"He contributes way more [than a bat]," Kris Bryant said. "Anthony likes to use his bat here and there. I even used it at one point this year and I got a hit out of it. Any time you can take hits from other guys and they're gonna give 'em to you, you take 'em.

"Some guys that aren't on the roster, they're all here and supporting us and that's huge for us. They've been here all year."

Texas Rangers hire Cubs' Shiraz Rehman to be assistant GM

Texas Rangers hire Cubs' Shiraz Rehman to be assistant GM

The changing of the guard continues for the Cubs this offseason. 

After the team hired a new hitting coach yesterday, it was reported today that they're losing a front office member: 

Rehman, who has been with the Cubs in the same position for the last seven years, will reportedly head up the Rangers' analytics department. According to the Chicago Tribune, Rehman's role was " evaluating existing systems, and recognizing and applying solutions in an effort to create competitive advantages for the organization." 

All reports indicate that he'll be doing similar analytic-based work with the Rangers. 

Chili Davis after being ousted by Cubs: 'There were multiple players in there I didn't connect with'

Chili Davis after being ousted by Cubs: 'There were multiple players in there I didn't connect with'

Chili Davis didn't go all scorched earth on the Cubs in a recent interview with the Chicago Sun-Times, but he had quite a lot to say after being ousted by the organization after just one year as the hitting coach.

The Cubs made Davis the scapegoat for an offense that faded down the stretch, struggling for the entire second half and scoring just 1 run in three of the final four games of the year.

When he was hired a year ago, Theo Epstein and Joe Maddon talked up Davis' impressive resume that includes a 19-year MLB career, two separate stints as a successful hitting coach with the Oakland A's and Boston Red Sox and a philosophy that they hoped would withstand the test of time in the game today, preaching more contact and using the opposite field.

Throughout the 2018 season, Maddon often commended Davis for his ability to communicate with players, particularly in the area of mental approach to each at-bat.

Now that the dust has settled a bit on his firing, Davis felt he had some issues getting through to some Cubs players.

I learned a lot this year," Davis told the Sun-Times' Gordon Wittenmyer. "I learned that the next situation I get in, before I say yes to a job, I need to make sure I know the personnel I'll be dealing with in the clubhouse. I hope the next guy connects better with the players, because I felt that there were multiple players there I didn't connect with. It wasn't that I didn't try; it just wasn't there.

The Cubs hired Anthony Iapoce as their new hitting coach Monday afternoon. Iapoce comes over from the Rangers and has a direct link to John Mallee, who was the Cubs' hitting coach for three seasons before being let go when Davis became available last winter. 

Iapoce also spent three seasons with the Cubs as a special assistant to the GM, overseeing the organization's minor-league hitting from 2013-15. Presumably, he found a way over those years to connect with the Cubs' top young hitting prospects — guys like Kris Bryant and Kyle Schwarber and Willson Contreras that are now leading the big-league lineup.

Hopefully he has better success at this than I did," Davis said of Iapoce in the Sun-Times article. "But regardless of who's there, certain players there are going to have to make some adjustments because the game's changed and pitchers are pitching them differently. They're not pitching to launch angles and fly balls and all that anymore. They're pitching away from that. They're going to have to make that adjustment whether I'm there or not.

Davis had a whole lot more to say on the matter and I encourage you to read the full interview with Wittenmyer over at ChicagoSunTimes.com.

A healthy Bryant very likely could've changed everything for Davis and the Cubs' 2018 lineup. Contreras hitting like he's capable of in the second half would've made a huge difference, as well.

But the end result is a finish to the 2018 campaign that was viewed universally as a disappointment — particularly in the offensive department — and the Cubs are left with their third different hitting coach in three seasons.