Cubs

As advertised: Daniel Descalso fitting in nicely with Cubs

As advertised: Daniel Descalso fitting in nicely with Cubs

Daniel Descalso isn't the type of player whose true impact can be summed up by looking at the back of his baseball card.

In a lot of ways, he's the prototypical "Cardinals" player. Cubs fans know the type — fundamentally sound and doesn't really excel in one area, but is solid across the board. Jon Jay is another player in that same mold and won over the North Side of Chicago during his brief one-year stint here in 2017. (Jay is also good friends with Descalso.)

Descalso came up in the Cardinals system and spent his first five MLB seasons in St. Louis. Friday marks the first time he's getting a taste of the Cubs-Cardinals rivalry from the other side.

When the Cubs signed Descalso to a free-agent deal a week before Christmas, he was heralded as a clubhouse leader and a strong veteran presence who works solid, consistent at-bats. Heading into the winter, nobody thought Descalso would be the biggest addition the Cubs would make before the 2019 campaign, but the 32-year-old has been exactly as advertised.

"He's a professional, man," Joe Maddon said of Descalso earlier this season. "This guy knows what he's doing out there. He can play on any team in any generation. He's just a good baseball player. He works a great at-bat."

The Cubs went into the offseason with a lot of quality position-player depth, so it was unknown exactly how much Descalso would play this year, even though he could suit up at essentially any position on the diamond. 

Friday marked his 20th start for the Cubs in their first 29 games and he's on pace for 451 at-bats. Ironically, Descalso's versatility hasn't even been a factor yet, as every start he's made and defensive inning he's played has come at second base. It helps that Ian Happ has spent the entire first month of the season in Triple-A Iowa and Ben Zobrist is also so flexible and a solid defender in the outfield.

However, Descalso's approach at the plate has also necessitated more playing time. 

He's been one of the most clutch hitters on the Cubs over the first five weeks of the season, hitting .385 (5-for-13) with 2 outs and runners in scoring position and batting .310 (13-for-42) with 7 RBI in high- or medium-leverage situations.

"My approach is gonna be dictated by pitcher on the mound, situation out there, if I'm familiar with the guy, how I'm feeling," he said. "So I don't try to do anything any differently [with 2 outs]. As simple as it sounds, I just try to get a pitch to hit and don't miss it."

Descalso is also seeing a lot of time in the leadoff spot now for the Cubs, with both Zobrist and Albert Almora Jr. off to slow starts in their timeshare atop the Cubs order. Maddon said part of that is he wants to get Descalso as many at-bats as possible in a game because he thinks "good things are going to happen."

That's exactly what played out Friday, as Descalso laid off a couple of close pitches from Jack Flaherty and drew a 1-out walk before scoring the first run of the game a few pitches later on Anthony Rizzo's 3-run blast.

For Descalso, he doesn't care where he hits, but it's certainly not a bad place to be in front of Kris Bryant, Rizzo and Javy Baez.

"I just try to go up there and have good at-bats," he said. "I'm trying to get on base any way I can, wherever I'm hitting. Whether it's leadoff in front of KB and Tony and Javy or whether it's down in the order, my goal is to get on base and try to swing at good pitches, take my walks when they're there and just have good at-bats."

This marks Descalso's 10th season in the big leagues and he's become more of a weapon at the plate with each passing year. Last season with the Diamondbacks, he set career highs in homers (13), RBI (57), walks (64), on-base percentage (.353), slugging percentage (.436) and OPS (.789). 

Entering play Friday, he's on pace to approach those numbers once again — 12 homers, 64 RBI, 58 walks, .341 OBP, .397 SLG, .738 OPS.

"I feel like I've always had a pretty good feel for the strike zone," Descalso said. "Maybe I chased a little more when I was younger. Maybe I missed some pitches I should've hit and put myself in less advantageous counts. I just feel like I have a better understanding of myself and what pitchers are trying to do to me now that I've been around for a while.

"I think it's a combination of being around for a while — you have a good idea how teams are trying to approach you — and you should know what you do well and what you don't do well and be an honest self-evaluator. Try to go up there and swing at pitches you can handle, try to cover the whole plate, stick to a plan up there and try to execute it."

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Anthony Rizzo joins Cubs All-Decade Team behind efforts on and off field

Anthony Rizzo joins Cubs All-Decade Team behind efforts on and off field

With the 2010s coming to a close, NBC Sports Chicago is unveiling its Cubs All-Decade Team, highlighting the players who made the biggest impacts on the organization from 2010-19.

You saw this one coming, right?

As the Cubs’ longest tenure player, Anthony Rizzo was a shoo-in for this group. He hasn’t relinquished his starting first baseman job since making his Cubs debut in June 2012. The guy’s longevity alone is impressive.

But besides that, Rizzo has been a model of consistency during his time on the North Side. Since 2012, he’s hit 217 home runs (averaging 27 per season) and hit 32 three times from 2014-17. The lone exception? 2015, when he hit 31. So close…

As a Cub, Rizzo is a .277/.376/.496 hitter with a 132 OPS+. He produces at a high clip each season, whether he’s hitting third, cleanup or leadoff, all while simultaneously playing stellar defense. The 30-year-old is a three-time Gold Glove Award winner (2016, 2018-19).

Rizzo is the guy who comes up huge in key moments but will be there to address the media after tough losses. He’s the de facto captain of the Cubs, the guy who suffered a nasty ankle sprain in September that could have ended his regular season. Instead, he returned four days later for a key series against the rival Cardinals, as the Cubs were fighting to keep their October dreams alive.

When he’s not leading his team on the field, Rizzo is giving back to the community off of it. He’s one of the most charitable athletes in the world and recently raised $1.3 million for children’s cancer research at his “8th annual Walk-off for Cancer” in his home state of Florida.

Rizzo was the first building block of the Cubs core which snapped their infamous 108-year championship drought, but he’ll be remembered for more than that. He’s a leader on and off the field, the clear choice for starting first baseman on our Cubs All-Decade Team.

Also considered: Derrek Lee, Bryan LaHair

Nationals 'love' Kris Bryant but price tag could stymie trade talks

Nationals 'love' Kris Bryant but price tag could stymie trade talks

With Anthony Rendon officially joining the Angels, the Nationals have a vacancy at third base.

Washington has options to replace Rendon; Josh Donaldson is still available in free agency, and Cubs third baseman Kris Bryant could potentially be had via trade.

The Nationals have reportedly inquired with the Cubs about Bryant, and while they “love” the 27-year-old, their focus is on Donaldson, according to MLB Network’s Jon Heyman. The Cubs would likely seek center fielder Victor Robles in a deal, a holdup on Washington's end, Heyman said.

From the Cubs perspective, it would make all the sense in the world to ask for Robles. He’s 22 years old, plays excellent defense (22 DRS in 2019, No. 1 in MLB by center fielders) and is only scratching the surface as a big-leaguer. Robles is projected to be a star, but Bryant already is one. If the Nationals want Bryant badly enough, they’ll have to sacrifice talent in a deal.

On the other hand, it’s easy to understand why Washington would be unwilling to trade Robles, who's under team control through 2024. Bryant will hit free agency after 2021, but if he wins his ongoing grievance case, he'll hit the open market after next season.

Nonetheless, if the Nationals do engage in Bryant trade talks, you can bet the Cubs will at least ask for Robles in return. A trade could be worked out without him, but for a Cubs team searching for better center field production, you've got to wonder who could be more enticing than Robles.

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