Cubs: Making the Gold Glove case for Anthony Rizzo

Cubs: Making the Gold Glove case for Anthony Rizzo

SAN DIEGO – On some level, winning a Gold Glove can be about putting up enough offensive numbers to get people to notice your defense. Anthony Rizzo checks those boxes in the Triple Crown categories, hitting close to .300 and on pace to finish with 30-plus homers and around 115 RBI for a Cubs team owning the best record in baseball.

Rizzo returned to Petco Park on Monday – where he once bombed as the anticipated face-of-the-franchise replacement for Adrian Gonzalez – as a leading National League MVP candidate (while former University of San Diego star Kris Bryant is now the bigger story for the local media). If the Padres had questions about Rizzo’s upside and maturity – a front-office overhaul and an ownership sale ago – then his defensive evolution underscores his commitment to rounding out his entire game.

“Yeah, it’s something that all of us infielders are (thinking about),” Rizzo said. “None of us have cracked it yet. But we’re on our way.”

Joe Maddon is clearly biased, but the Cubs manager sees Rizzo as an obvious choice on a team now stocked with Gold Glove potential. As either the Tampa Bay Rays manager or a coach for the Anaheim/California Angels, Maddon has witnessed Gold Glove seasons from first basemen Carlos Pena, Darin Erstad and J.T. Snow.

“I know there’s a lot of pretty good defensive first basemen, but ‘Rizz’ is right at the top of the list for me,” Maddon said. “I’ve been around good first basemen, and he’s right up at the top of the list.”

[SHOP: Get your own Anthony Rizzo jersey right here]

Since future Cubs executives Jed Hoyer and Theo Epstein engineered the Rizzo/Gonzalez trade between San Diego and the Boston Red Sox, the Padres used Brad Hawpe as an Opening Day first baseman in 2011 and got four underwhelming seasons out of Yonder Alonso before finding an interesting solution in Wil Myers, a converted outfielder and 2016 All-Star.

With a 9.3 Ultimate Zone Rating this year, Myers actually ranks ahead of Rizzo (3.9) in that FanGraphs metric. Rizzo leads all qualified NL first basemen in Defensive Runs Saved (nine) and Defensive WAR (0.2).

Rizzo also brings an ironman quality to a team that leads the majors in defensive efficiency, going 121-for-124 in games played so far and becoming a security blanket for an excellent left side of the infield (second-year players Bryant and Addison Russell) that has experienced some throwing issues.

Among NL first basemen, only Freddie Freeman (1,096 with the Atlanta Braves) and Paul Goldschmidt (1,074 with the Arizona Diamondbacks) have played more innings than Rizzo (1,047).’s Range Factor lists Goldschmidt (9.63), Rizzo (9.26) and San Francisco Giants first baseman Brandon Belt (9.26) as the top three in that positional category.

Beyond the name recognition, Rizzo also has this year’s Derek Jeter catch/Rio Olympics tribute, making the balance-beam play on a foul ball at Wrigley Field last week and going viral on social media.

“He lives for those moments,” second baseman Ben Zobrist said. “When he sniffs that, he can’t wait to get up on that wall and do that.”

Javy Baez can see the future

Javy Baez can see the future

Javy Baez doesn't have the words to describe Javy Baez.

But then again, that's not what he does.

Analytical breakdowns aren't his game — incredible, heart-stopping physical feats on the baseball diamond are.

On a night at Wrigley Field that felt like one of the October battles of the past between the Cubs and Dodgers, Baez once again wowed and awed.

It wasn't just that ridiculous juke move at first base, though that will undoubtedly go down as one of the top MLB highlights of the year — if not THE top highlight. 

During Tuesday night's 7-2 Cubs win, Baez turned five different ground balls into outs...from the outfield grass. One such play nabbed Cody Bellinger by a split second at first base to end a bases-loaded threat in the eighth inning. 

And there was his seventh homer of the season — his first at home, surprisingly — to give the Cubs some more breathing room as he continues to hit the ball with authority the other way. He now has 15 hits in his last 33 at-bats and 9 of those knocks have gone for extra bases (5 doubles, 3 homers and a triple). 

But back to that play at first base — how did he do it?

After pausing for a few seconds, Baez shrugged and said, "I don't know," before trying to find the words to explain what was going through his head in those few seconds as he was hurtling down the basepath:

"I just saw him really close to the line," Baez said. "Usually on that play, you go around [the base] like it's a base hit. I think if I would've kept going, he was going to run me over because he's a big dude. 

"I saw a play — Billy Hamilton did it like 3 or 4 years ago. I saw it and that was the first thing that came to my mind — to stop or see a reaction and he couldn't stop. I know I didn't leave the line. It was everything good."

It's the last part that's most amazing. 

Here's the play Baez was referencing, from July 11, 2014:

So as he's running down to first base, he has the wherewithal to dip into his encyclopedic cache, pluck out the perfect play from his memory and execute it in glorious fashion...all in a matter of maybe a second-and-a-half.

"I think we all feel his energy all around the place — not only on the field, but in the clubhouse," catcher Willson Contreras said. "We call him The Mago for a reason. I love this guy. To me, he has the best instincts in the game. What he did today was just awesome. That's one of the best base hits ever."

Joe Maddon said he and the Cubs coaches were comparing Baez to legendary Bears running back Gale Sayers in the dugout for that juke move.

"That's him playing on a playground in Puerto Rico somewhere," Maddon said. "That's what I love about him. There's no fear in his game. His game is a game and he sees things in advance and he's fearless. He could strike out three or four times in a row and that is not going to impact his fifth at-bat."

Just about every week throughout the season, Baez shows the baseball world something it's never seen before. 

From his lightning quick tags to his swim move slides to hitting bombs left-handed during batting practice to his rocket arm that has been clocked as high as 98 mph on the infield — even he has to surprise himself every now and then, right? Especially like this play Tuesday night?

"Nah, not really," he said, smirking. "I think if it's in your mind, it's possible. I see a lot of things that people can do and they don't realize it. I realize everything I can do and everything I can't do."

If you ever want to know what makes Baez "El Mago," read that last sentence again:

"I realize everything I can do and everything I can't do."

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Jose Quintana continued his strong run in a dominant 7-inning performance against the Dodgers

Jose Quintana continued his strong run in a dominant 7-inning performance against the Dodgers

During the 4th inning of the Cubs’ 7-2 win over the Los Angeles Dodgers on Tuesday night, LA right fielder Cody Bellinger took a 92 mile per hour fastball from Jose Quintana and sent it right back his way at 96: 

After a quick (maybe unintentional?) grab, Quintana calmly tossed the ball in his glove a few times before walking off the mound without even a grimace.

It was just that kind of night for Quintana, who pitched 7 strong innings while allowing only two runs on four hits and striking out seven. He’s now gone seven innings in three straight starts, all Cubs wins - two of which were against teams that currently sit in 1st place.

“We needed that kind of performance tonight,” Manager Joe Maddon said after the game. “They have a very difficult lineup to navigate and he was once again on top of his game. Great focus - he kept coming back with good pitches. Really the curveball was very pertinent tonight and then he had some good changeups to go with the fastball. He’s pitching.”

Quintana flashed an impressive amount of control while working through one of baseball’s toughest lineups. After walking six batters through his first two starts, Quintana has now only walked three since. 71 of his 114 pitches -- the most thrown by any Cubs pitcher this season, per team notes -- went for strikes. 

“I feel great,” he said after the game. “I know I’ve been throwing the ball really well the last couple of starts. All my stuff’s worked really good.”

“This year he’s been really good,” Willson Contreras added. “He’s using all his pitches which he didn’t do last year very often. I think he has his mind in the right place right now, and we’re in a good place.”

Quintana’s offspeed repertoire was firmly on display all night. Per Statcast, after throwing two changeups to Dodgers leadoff hitter Enrique Hernandez, he didn’t show the pitch again until the 4th. On the night, he threw the change up 12 times; the Dodgers failed to put a single one in play. 

“We’ve been in these types of situations and conversations since Spring Training,” Contreras added. “I saw him working out his change up in [there], which is good. He was a little harder than 84, but today I think was one of the best games he threw with the change up.”

Through 28 innings pitched this season, the lefty now sports a sub-3 FIP (2.89) and is striking out over 11 batters per nine innings. Some pitchers that have a higher FIP include David Price, Jacob deGrom and Stephen Strasburg. 

“He’s absolutely pitching right now,” Maddon added. “Where in the past I thought he would just pretty much rely on his fastball. He’s becoming a pitch maker.”