<
>

Rizzo making a compelling All-Star bid

6/24/2014

CHICAGO -- If Chicago Cubs first baseman Anthony Rizzo is going to make his first All-Star team he'll have to count on his peers or National League manager Mike Matheny to choose him, considering he isn't in the top five in fan voting.

Given the state of the Cubs and Rizzo's relatively short history of success, it's no surprise he won't get voted in. But that doesn't mean the 24-year-old is not deserving. Unlike for shortstop Starlin Castro, the competition at Rizzo's position is fierce. But Rizzo is right there with the best of them.

He took over the home run lead for first basemen, hitting his 16th of the season on Monday, and he's third in on-base percentage (.399) heading into Tuesday's games. He's third in slugging (.513) and third in OPS (.913) in the National League, as well. And Rizzo leads all first basemen in free passes with 48.

"He's worked at it a lot," Castro said of Rizzo. "He knows what pitches to hit and what pitches not to hit. He's in front of me right there. I see him [hit] every day."

The leader in many offensive categories at first base is Arizona's Paul Goldschmidt. He'll be voted in, so cross him off as competition. Matt Adams of the St. Louis Cardinals has come on strong (.328 batting average) and with his manager getting a say he could very well make the team, so Rizzo is no sure thing. Adam LaRoche of Washington, Justin Morneau of Colorado and Freddie Freeman of Atlanta are all having good seasons, as well.

A scout who watches the Cubs often recently pointed out that Rizzo's season is even better when you consider the lineup around him. Opposing pitchers won't say it publicly because they don't want to disrespect the Cubs, but after Castro and Rizzo, pitchers get a breather with the rest of the lineup.

That's no small thing. When a pitcher is under stress because of a dangerous lineup they tend to make more mistakes. When they can relax against some of the Cubs' hitters -- even the ones batting first and second in the order -- they can ramp it up against Rizzo and Castro.

"That's the most impressive thing to me," the scout said. "They're having good years with no help."

It's not about protection as much as it is about stress. Rizzo's biggest accomplishment might be in those walks. Without a ton of power behind him he's resisted the urge to swing outside the zone although Monday's home run pitch was nearly in the right-handed batter's box. But overall he's been extremely patient and it's paid off.

"Just not trying to do too much," Rizzo said recently. "You don't hit home runs when you think about hitting home runs."

But is it all enough to make the All-Star team? A last-place team like the Cubs isn't going to get the benefit of the doubt in terms of numbers.

Castro should be in because his competition isn't nearly as stiff. And either Jeff Samardzija or Jason Hammel should be in, as well. Can the Cubs get three representatives? Probably not. Rizzo has one thing going for him in regard to Matheny making choices: He's done well against the Cardinals this year with a .273/.381/.545/.926 slash line.

Like any player, Rizzo would like to make the All-Star team but that's not the most important thing to him.

"If this team is going [winning] I'd be happy, but we're not winning as much as I'd like to be," he said.

That doesn't take away from his resurgent season.