Linked forever, All-Stars Adrian Gonzalez and Anthony Rizzo thriving


Linked forever, All-Stars Adrian Gonzalez and Anthony Rizzo thriving

CINCINNATI -- Adrian Gonzalez is hardly surprised by the sight of Anthony Rizzo in the National League clubhouse for this week’s All-Star Game.

Rizzo may only have been a Double-A first baseman when the Boston Red Sox traded him and two other minor leaguers to the San Diego Padres in exchange for the slugger in December 2010, but Gonzalez said Monday he was well aware of the youngster long before he became an All-Star first baseman. Both players have since been traded a second time, Gonzalez to the Los Angeles Dodgers and Rizzo to the Cubs, but they’ll forever be linked.

“Obviously we know we’re joined because of that,” Gonzalez said. “But I knew how good of a player he was when I got traded for him and always wish him the best. It’s good to see he’s realized his full potential and he’s lived up to it.”

[MORE: Cubs' Anthony Rizzo gets start at DH in All-Star Game]

Rizzo is a participant in Monday’s Home Run Derby and is also an NL All-Star for the second time, having been voted in by his peers this year. In 2014, Rizzo earned a trip to Minneapolis via the Fan Vote.

NL manager Bruce Bochy announced Monday that Rizzo -- who has a .298/.413/.542 slash line with 16 homers and 48 RBIs in 380 plate appearances -- would hit sixth and get the start as his team’s designated hitter on Tuesday. Though Rizzo’s career got out to a slow start with the Padres, he has thrived in Chicago after the Cubs sent Andrew Cashner to the Padres for him in a January 2012 deal.

Given he had to trade Gonzalez because of the Padres’ salary restrictions, Cubs general manager Jed Hoyer -- then San Diego’s GM -- is happy how things have worked out. At the time, Rizzo was considered the second-best prospect in the deal behind pitcher Casey Kelly.

“You’re kind of sick to your stomach to trade a talent like that but you also knew you had to do it,” Hoyer said. “Obviously Rizzo has emerged as the star of that group and plays the same position. But I think that deal worked out for everyone.

“The Red Sox made the right deal but obviously the Padres did too because you got sort of an Adrian Gonzalez in Rizzo and now he’s made a couple of All-Star Games, he’s putting up big numbers and for any small-market team like the Padres, they got back a young Adrian Gonzalez that was affordable.”

“When you’re running a small-market team you’ve got to look for the next guy. Rizzo certainly hasn’t had Adrian’s career yet, but at this moment he’s putting up the same numbers and in a small-market like that you’ve got to look for the next one.”

[SHOP CUBS: Get an Anthony Rizzo All-Star Game jersey right here]

Gonzalez believed it because of the way Rizzo performed at Portland in the Eastern League, a stop at which he had also previously thrived even though it was deemed a pitcher’s park.

Back in 2002, Gonzalez -- a five-time All-Star who is making his first appearance in the exhibition since 2011 -- hit 17 homers and drove in 96 runs in 573 plate appearances for the Sea Dogs. Eight years later, Rizzo had 20 homers and 80 RBIs in 467 plate appearances.

Rizzo only hit .141 with one homer in 153 plate appearances with the Padres in 2011. But he has a career .270/.362/.481 slash line and 86 homers with the Cubs.

“It’s always been there,” Gonzalez said. “He’s made his adjustments and has done what he’s needed to do. The confidence has always been there and once he realizes he can do it then it’s easy for him to do it on an everyday basis. I think he’s in a spot where he’s comfortable and he’s really enjoying it.”

SportsTalk Live Podcast: Jon Lester struggles against the division-rival Cardinals


SportsTalk Live Podcast: Jon Lester struggles against the division-rival Cardinals

It was a tough day for the North Siders.

The Cubs got obliterated by the Cardinals as Matt Carpenter had a three-homer, two-double day. Ben Finfer, Seth Gruen and Maggie Hendricks join David Kaplan on the latest SportsTalk Live Podcast to talk about the blowout.

Was Jon Lester due for this kind of terrible outing? And do the Cubs have enough to swing a big trade before the deadline?

Plus, the panel discusses Matt Nagy’s first training camp practice in the rain and Roquan Smith’s absence in Bourbonnais.

You can listen to the full podcast here or via the embedded player below:

Jon Lester saw a start like this coming

Jon Lester saw a start like this coming

Jon Lester had easily his worst outing of the year, allowing the Cardinals to score eight runs on seven hits, the veteran All-Star only managed three innings before Joe Maddon turned to his bullpen. 

The Cardinals would take game two of the series by the score of 18 to 5, and while none of the Cubs pitchers could silence the Cardinal bats, Lester didn't shy away from his poor outing. 

"You know, I don't want to chalk this up as bad days happen," said Lester. "I think mechanically this has kinda been coming." 

Lester knew he was struggling to hit his spots, and while his ERA was a sparkling 2.58 coming into this start, his peripheral stats had him pegged as a potential regression candidate in the second half of the season.

His 4.35 FIP and 3.30 walks per nine innings show a pitcher who is relying heavily on his defense to get outs, which isn't surprising for a 33-year-old veteran but the walks are a concern. 

Cubs manager Joe Maddon was aware Lester had been working on his mechanics, but even he was surprised that Lester's start went downhill so quickly. 

"I thought he had good stuff to start the game, hitting [92-93 mph] and I'm thinking this might be a good day," said Maddon. "But you could just see from the beginning he was off just a little bit." 

Over Lester's last four starts his ERA has been an uncharacteristic 4.57, issuing 10 walks over those four starts, and only making it past the 6th inning once. At this point of Lester's career, he knows the best way for him to get outs isn't through strikeouts but by inducing soft contact and avoiding walks. 

And while both his hard contact rate and walks have increased this season, Lester's experience and high baseball I.Q. has allowed him to navigate his way through sticky situations. 

"I've been getting outs," Lester said candidly. "I just feel like when I've had that strikeout or I have a guy set up for that pitch I haven't been able to execute it." 

And while this outing was one to forget, it's at least a positive sign that Lester is aware of his issues on the mound. The veteran knows how to get outs and he knows what he needs to do to be successful in the latter part of his career. He just needs to get back to executing those pitches. 

Just don't expect Lester to dive head first into the analytics on how to fix his issues, he'll stick to hard work and baseball common sense. 

"I'm not too concerned with the analytic B.S., I'm worried about my mechanical fix for my next start."