Cubs

Respect this: How Anthony Rizzo owns October

Respect this: How Anthony Rizzo owns October

No one around this team flips the switch quite like Anthony Rizzo, who usually rolls into the Wrigley Field clubhouse looking like he just woke up from a nap, and spends an extraordinary amount of time with cancer patients at Lurie Children’s Hospital, and absolutely wants to own October and be the new Mr. Cub.

It depends on the mood. Rizzo can be purposely boring with the media or extremely entertaining, writing everything off as “just baseball” or predicting the Cubs would win the division after an 89-loss season in 2014 and the franchise’s fifth-straight fifth-place finish.    

Remember Rizzo in the middle of an epic World Series Game 7 against the Cleveland Indians, clinging to a mic-d up David Ross in Progressive Field’s visiting dugout: “I can’t control myself right now. I’m trying my best. I’m emotional. I’m an emotional wreck.” Rizzo leaned into Grandpa Rossy and cracked up teammate Tommy La Stella with an “Anchorman” quote: “I am in a glass case of emotion right now.”

Rizzo screaming “Respect me! Respect me!” and pounding his chest will be one of the takeaway moments from this National League Division Series, making Washington Nationals manager Dusty Baker pay for the key Game 3 decision to let lefty reliever Oliver Perez pitch to him.

“He has been underrated,” Cubs manager Joe Maddon said before Tuesday’s forecast pushed Game 4 back to Wednesday at 3:08 p.m. “For me, he always should be in the MVP consideration. That’s just Anthony being Anthony in the moment. I would almost bet – had he had a chance to reevaluate what he said right there – he may have. But that’s just Rizz. He’s very self-confident.

“And there’s not a thing wrong with that. In this game, there’s so much failure involved, you have to have that self-confidence to overcome the negative moments. That was truly Rizz being Rizz.”

Rizzo lifted the first pitch from Perez into the no man’s land between shortstop Trea Turner and converging outfielders Jayson Werth and Michael A. Taylor, the ball dropping for a two-out, go-ahead RBI single in the eighth inning of Monday’s 2-1 win. That left the Nationals one loss away from winter and the Cubs one win away from their third straight trip to the NL Championship Series.

[MORE: Game 4 postponed to Wednesday: Could postseason rain go against the Cubs this time around?]

That type of Sustained Success sounded unthinkable in the middle of the 2012 season, when Rizzo took over for first baseman Bryan LaHair on a team that would lose 101 games. Rizzo began to prove why Theo Epstein’s baseball operations group had such a man crush on him, putting his own imprint on the franchise with his relaxed attitude and hair-trigger intensity.  

“You’ve just got to stay in the moment,” Rizzo said. “These games, it doesn't matter what you did the last at-bat, if you got a hit, if you got a home run. It's all about that pitch, and that next pitch, and you've got to be ready.

“What you did previously means nothing anymore. You've got to be ready every single pitch. And to stay in games like this, we know. We know we're good.”

A bloop single still goes down in the record books. Rizzo now has a nine-game hitting streak in postseason play, going 13-for-33 (.394) with two home runs and 10 RBI during that stretch. That streak is tied with Riggs Stephenson (1929-32) for third-longest as a Cub, trailing Frank “Wildfire” Schulte (13 games between 1906-10) and Ryne Sandberg (10 games from 1984-89). Rizzo’s six career homers and 17 RBI in the playoffs are both franchise records.  

It’s not that Rizzo’s underrated as much as other young players became the next thing in Wrigleyville, Kris Bryant beat him in last year’s NL MVP race, the Cubs are overflowing with other characters/distractions/storylines and you almost take the Gold Glove defense and the 30-homer, 100-RBI seasons (three in a row) for granted now.

But Rizzo is 28 years old and under club control through 2021 and said it after Jon Lester signed that $155 million megadeal: The Cubs should be contenders for the rest of his career.

“We know someone is going to come through, and it's just a matter of time before someone does,” Rizzo said. “It's just who we are. We all believe in each other."

A series to forget: Facts and figures from Cubs' rough weekend in Cincinnati

A series to forget: Facts and figures from Cubs' rough weekend in Cincinnati

The Cubs and their fans may want to invent and use one of those Men In Black neuralyzers because the four-game series in Cincinnati was one to forget.

The Reds finished off a four-game sweep of the Cubs on Sunday with an 8-6 win. The way the Reds won the finale will be especially painful for the Cubs considering they led 6-1 after six innings. Mike Montgomery appeared to tire in the seventh inning and Pedro Strop got rocked out of the bullpen to lead to a seven-run seventh for the hosts.

The Reds have now won seven in a row and 10 of 12, but still sit 13 games under .500. Bizarrely, the Reds also swept the Dodgers, the Cubs’ next opponent, in a four-game series in May. Duane Underwood will start for the Cubs Monday against the Dodgers and make his major league debut.

Here are some other wild facts and figures from the series:

  • The last time the Reds swept the Cubs in a four-game series was back in 1983. That was the first week of the season and three weeks before the infamous Lee Elia rant.
  • One positive for the Cubs from the game was Montgomery’s start. Through six innings he allowed one run on three hits and two walks. However, he gave up a single, a double and a single in the seventh before Strop relieved him. Montgomery had gone six innings and allowed one run in each of his last four outings.
  • Strop was definitely a negative. On his first pitch, Strop gave up a home run to pinch-hitter Jesse Winker, the second home run for a Reds pinch-hitter in the game. Then Strop allowed a single, a walk, a single and a double before getting an out. Strop’s final line: 2/3 inning pitched, four runs, one strikeout, three walks, four hits.
  • The Cubs led in three of the four games this series, including two leads after five innings.
  • The Cubs were 5-for-23 (.217) with runners in scoring position in the series. On the season the Cubs are hitting .233 with RISP, which is 22nd in the majors and fourth-worst in the National League (but ahead of the division-rival Brewers and Cardinals).
  • The Reds outscored the Cubs 31-13 and scored at least six runs in every game. The Reds are now 6-3 against the Cubs this year after going a combined 17-40 against the Cubs from 2015-2017.

Summer of Sammy: Sosa's 31st homer in 1998

Summer of Sammy: Sosa's 31st homer in 1998

It's the 20th anniversary of the Summer of Sammy, when Sosa and Mark McGwire went toe-to-toe in one of the most exciting seasons in American sports history chasing after Roger Maris' home run record. All year, we're going to go homer-by-homer on Sosa's 66 longballs, with highlights and info about each. Enjoy.

Sosa's 18th homer of June and 31st of the season came off the Tigers in the Cubs' brief 2-game Interleague series in Detroit. 

Sosa connected in the first inning off Tigers starter Seth Greisinger, going back-to-back with Mickey Morandini. 

The Cubs wound up getting out to a 5-0 start in the game but still lost 7-6 on a Gabe Alvarez single in the bottom of the 11th.

The aforementioned Morandini homer was only the 3rd of the season for the Cubs second baseman. He finished with 8 homers on the year and 224 total bases on 172 hits in what was a very good offensive season. Yet it paled in comparison to Sosa, who had nearly 200 more total bases (416) and a slugging percentage nearly 200 points above Morandini's (.647 to .471), a testament to how truly incredible Sosa's season was.

Fun fact: Tony Clark was the Tigers' cleanup hitter that day. Clark is now the head of the MLB Players Union.

Fun fact No. 2: Paul Bako was the Detroit catcher in the game. He later became the Cubs backup catcher in 2003 and 2004, when he posted a .611 OPS in 119 games over the two years.