Cubs counting on Anthony Rizzo and Kris Bryant to start producing in playoffs


Cubs counting on Anthony Rizzo and Kris Bryant to start producing in playoffs

The Cubs aren’t lucky to be here, not after winning 97 games and surviving baseball’s toughest division. Jake Arrieta turned into Bob Gibson, Kyle Schwarber launched that ball out of PNC Park and a mad-scientist manager kept selecting the right answers for a multiple-choice team.

Raise your hand if you saw Joe Maddon trusting Trevor Cahill (7.52 ERA with the Atlanta Braves) in the eighth inning of a postseason game when he signed a minor-league deal this summer.

But the Cubs are probably fortunate to be in this position — hosting their first home playoff game since 2008 and tied up with the St. Louis Cardinals in this National League division series — without Anthony Rizzo and Kris Bryant doing any damage.

“We’re looking for them,” Maddon said. “That’s 200 ribeyes between the two of them. That’s really important.”

[MORE: Jake Arrieta emerges as October star and gets locked in for Cubs-Cardinals]

The Cubs can’t play small ball all the way through October. Rizzo and Bryant will have to produce, starting with Monday’s Game 3 at Wrigley Field in what’s become a best-of-three grudge match.

Together, Rizzo and Bryant generated 57 homers, 69 doubles, 200 RBI and 155 walks during the regular season. Combined, the two All-Stars have gone 0-for-21 with eight strikeouts through three postseason games.  

“We’re probably out of our zones a little bit,” Maddon said. “We’re probably playing to what they want us to swing at more than we’re swinging at what we want to swing at.

“To me, it’s expansion of zone, and we’re just not adjusting back to what they’re doing yet. That’s it. Also, I think, to a certain extent they’ve been pressing just a little bit.”

Bryant grounded into seven double plays during 151 regular-season games — and has already done that twice during the playoffs. For what it’s worth, the game’s best rookie has been a far more dangerous hitter at Wrigley Field (21 homers, 1.037 OPS) than on the road (five homers, .693 OPS).

“I’ve hit some balls really hard — just at people,” Bryant said. “In the playoffs, it’s definitely more pitcher-oriented. You always see the pitcher duels. But as an individual, that stuff’s all thrown out the door right now. I could care less if I strike out four times, as long as I’m helping the team win in any way possible. Then I’m doing my job — and that’s our mindset right now.”

[NBC SHOP: Buy Cubs playoff gear]

Bryant can beat teams in other ways, deflecting a line drive at third base and making a nifty catch during that wild-card victory over the Pittsburgh Pirates. He can handle all three spots in the outfield and runs the bases as well as anyone on the team.

“I have all the confidence in the world,” Maddon said. “We’re facing good pitching. That’s what happens in the playoffs. You see good pitchers on a daily basis. We just have to make our adjustments.

“I have a lot of faith in these guys. I don’t feel they’re fatigued. I feel they’re ready to roll. They’re definitely in the moment.”

And the Cubs couldn’t play so loose and with such confidence without Rizzo’s MVP-level production at first base, clubhouse DJ spinning and we’re-winning-the-division swagger.   

“We have a lot to prove,” Rizzo said. “We haven't proven anything yet. We are young. We have a lot of talent. But we have to go out there and take it.”

Cubs Talk Podcast: David Bote’s wild ride and a huge test for Cubs pitchers


Cubs Talk Podcast: David Bote’s wild ride and a huge test for Cubs pitchers

Kelly Crull and Tony Andracki break down the Cubs’ series win over the Diamondbacks at Wrigley Field, which capped off with yet another David Bote walk-off and a surprising performance from Tyler Chatwood. They also break down where this Cubs team is at as they get set to welcome the high-powered Dodgers offense into Chicago later in the week.

:30 – The Kelly Effect

1:00 – David Bote’s wild ride

2:00 – El Mago’s magic pays off for Cubs yet again

3:30 – Bote’s adjustments

6:40 – Chatwood’s big day

8:50 – What’s next for Chatwood?

10:10 – Lester’s return is right around the corner

11:30 – Cubs pitching firing on all cylinders

12:00 – Did Kap jinx Strop?

13:30 – Dodgers pose a big challenge for Cubs pitching staff

Listen to the full episode in the embedded player below:

Add another chapter to David Bote's incredible story

Add another chapter to David Bote's incredible story

David Bote had to be feeling like the luckiest guy on Earth.

The Cubs were humming along in their quickest game of the season and two outs away from a 1-0 victory on a picture-perfect Easter Sunday at Wrigley Field. That was good news for him, because he had a flight to catch — doctors were inducing his wife, Rachel, and she was going to be giving birth to their third child that night.

Then Bote watched as Arizona's light-hitting outfielder Jarrod Dyson — he of 16 homers in 744 career games coming into the afternoon — sent a Pedro Strop pitch into the right-field bleachers in the top of the ninth inning to extend the game.

So Bote took things into his own hands.

Javy Baez led off the Cubs' half of the ninth with a double down the right field line, advanced to third on an error and then Willson Contreras was plunked by Diamondbacks reliever Archie Bradley.

Up stepped Bote, who watched a curve for Ball 1 and then narrowly got out of the way of a 95 mph fastball ticketed for his left temple. Bradley came back with a curve for a strike and Bote knew what to look for, waiting on another curveball and hammering it through the drawn-in infield for the Cubs' 10th win of the season. 

Minutes later, Bote had bolted out of Wrigley Field, heading back home to Colorado for the birth of Baby No. 3.

Speaking of which, Bote's walk-off hit Sunday came exactly 36 weeks (a little over eight months) after his ultimate grand slam to beat the Washington Nationals...

"It's a grand slam baby and now it's another walk-off for him," teammate Anthony Rizzo joked.

This is just the latest chapter in the incredible story of Bote, an 18th-round draft pick who endured seven seasons in the minor leagues before being called up to the majors. He doesn't even have a full year of service time in "The Show" yet, but he's already proven he belongs and carved out a permanent spot on the roster before signing a 5-year, $15 million extension earlier this month.

"From the homer last year, there was a lot of pressure and he slowed everything down," Baez said. "He just keeps getting better and he knows he's got talent and he can do it. He's got a lot of confidence coming off the bench and he's been huge for this team."

This was Bote's 42nd career RBI and it was already his 4th walk-off RBI. That means nearly 10 percent of his career RBI have come via walk-off situation.

"It's nice. He's had experience early [in those situations]," Rizzo said. "You can't teach that. He's had a lot of situations like that and he's come through. It's fun to watch."

This was only the 10th start of the season for Bote in the Cubs' 20th game, but he's found a way to stay sharp. 

After his 2-hit game Sunday, he's now slashing .295/.380/.455 on the season and showing off the adjustments he's made after hitting just .176 with a .559 OPS after that ultimate grand slam last year.

Click here to download the new MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the Cubs easily on your device.