Cubs defend Anthony Rizzo's controversial slide

Cubs defend Anthony Rizzo's controversial slide

Anthony Rizzo's big day at the plate was only overshadowed by his play at the dish.

The Cubs first baseman got the scoring started on Memorial Day with a solo blast in the top of the second inning, one of three hits on the afternoon as he continues to sizzle in May.

But everybody will be talking about his slide at the plate in the eighth inning, in which he took out Pirates catcher Elias Diaz as he was trying to turn a double play.

Rizzo came barreling into home plate and as Diaz received the throw, he stepped off home plate, trying to fire to first to get Chris Gimenez on a double play. Rizzo slid into Diaz, leading the throw into right field and the Cubs were permitted a pair of runs:

In real time, it doesn't look that bad, but the replays and different angles are a little head-scratching:

The umpires huddled up and ruled the slide legal and both Cubs runs were able to stay on the board. Pirates manager Clint Hurdle was furious and immediately tossed for arguing the call and subsequent replay.

In an interview with ESPN's Jesse Rogers on the ABC broadcast immediately after the game, Rizzo defended the slide.

"Just playing hard," Rizzo said. "Never want to try to hurt someone. They're playing as hard as they can over there, we're playing as hard as we can over here. You gotta break up a double play. Fortunately, we broke it up, everyone comes out healthy, but I thought it was a good play."

After the game, Cubs manager Joe Maddon passionately backed Rizzo (h/t Jesse Rogers, again):

"That's how you should teach your kids to slide and break up a double play — the catcher's gotta clear a path," Maddon said. "You have to teach proper technique. He's gotta get out farther, he's gotta keep his foot on the plate clear because that's absolutely what can happen. And you know why? Because it happened to me and the same thing happened — the ball went down the right field corner. My concern there was that they were going to attempt to review it in the same way you review it at second base, whereas there's no base sticking up that you can hold on to.

"This is tough on umpires. Don't get me wrong. I'm not blaming the umpires at all. The umpires are awesome; they handled it perfectly. I'm the one that was being the jerk. But when that happens, if that play gets turned over, there's no base sticking up, they're saying something about diverting to hit the catcher purposely or cleats in the air. All kinds of innate stuff. You're teaching the fans the wrong things. You're worried about not getting people hurt but then Rizzo — in the eyes of the Pittsburgh fans — did something wrong or dirty and that is absolutely incorrect."

While the slide was legal — Rizzo could easily reach home plate — it's still a scary play, but one that's been around in baseball for years. Middle infielders have to deal with similar slides near second base all the time. Diaz was also healthy enough to remain in the game.

It's also fair that the Pirates and their fans (who booed Rizzo on his next trip to the plate) would be unhappy with the outcome on multiple levels. Cubs personnel and fans would undoubtedly have an issue if Willson Contreras was taken out in a similar fashion.

This isn't the first time these two teams have had a slide controversy on their hands. Remember, it was Chris Coghlan who slid into Jung Ho Kang at second base in September 2015, breaking Kang's leg.

It's also not the first time Rizzo has had an aggressive, controversial slide at home plate, with a similar issue coming last June that was ruled illegal:

On social media, many Cubs fans rushed to Rizzo's defense while others acknowledged they felt weird about the slide even though they support Rizzo:

The Cubs went on to win the game 7-0 and Rizzo had 3 RBI in the contest.

Nationals 'love' Kris Bryant but potential holdup could stymie trade talks

Nationals 'love' Kris Bryant but potential holdup 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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Willson Contreras and his boundless energy join Cubs All-Decade Team

Willson Contreras and his boundless energy join Cubs All-Decade Team

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.

It didn’t take long for Willson Contreras to introduce himself to Major League Baseball. On the first pitch he saw as a big-leaguer, the Cubs catcher cranked a two-run home run to center field — on Sunday Night Baseball, nonetheless.

That moment was a sign of things to come for Contreras, who has since established himself as one of the best catchers in baseball. The 27-year-old holds a career .267/.350/.470 line with a 117 wRC+ and 67 home runs in four seasons. He’s started back-to-back All-Star Games, the first Cubs catcher to do so since Gabby Hartnett (1937-38).

Contreras offers so much to the Cubs besides his bat. His cannon of an arm and athleticism behind the plate are integral to the Cubs controlling opposing run games. His pitch framing is a work in progress, and admittedly, he could improve in this area by throwing behind runners less, ensuring he gets strikes called.

However, back-picking is part of Contreras’ value. He may lose some strike calls by not sticking a frame, but there've been plenty of occasions where Contreras' arm has provided the Cubs with a spark. His boundless energy is unmeasurable, but its importance to the Cubs — who feed off of it — cannot be overstated.

There are areas where Contreras can improve, and that's a scary thought. But he's already is one of the best backstops in baseball and has earned the starting catcher spot on our Cubs All-Decade Team.

Also considered: Welington Castillo, Miguel Montero, David Ross, Geovany Soto