Chicago Cubs: Anthony Rizzo

Cubs merit optimism, but playoffs in 2015 still a longshot

September, 29, 2014
Sep 29
11:00
AM CT
Rogers By Jesse Rogers
ESPNChicago.com
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Optimism was the key word emerging from the Chicago Cubs locker room as the offseason began, 106 years since their last championship.

[+] EnlargeAnthony Rizzo
AP Photo/Nam Y. HuhAnthony Rizzo's return to form -- and the experience gained from his second full season in the major leagues -- was a major positive for the Cubs.
But optimism alone won't end that title drought. It's going to take a lot of hard work and, yes, some more patience.

"We expect to win," first baseman Anthony Rizzo said before the Cubs' last game of the season on Sunday. "I don't want any fan to be complacent with us not winning next year and going to the postseason."

It's the right attitude to take for anyone in uniform. But everyone else, along with the front office, needs to be realistic. The main reasons the Cubs still have a long way to go? Age and inexperience.

The Cubs were the youngest team in the majors. At season's end, their roster averaged 27 years, 50 days. They're bound to stay about that young in 2015. They might add a veteran or two, but the eventual addition of Kris Bryant, among others, will keep the age and experience down.

Take Rizzo as an example.

"I think the biggest thing I learned last year was going through a full season," said Rizzo, who struggled with a .233 batting average in 2013. "That was my first time going through a full season at any level."

Just think how many key players haven't gone through that full season yet. Players such as Javier Baez, Arismendy Alcantara, Jorge Soler and Kyle Hendricks don't know what that 162-game grind at the majors is all about. They got a taste, which should help greatly, but there's much more to learn. Doing it for 162 games might be the hardest grind in sports. Only one member of the Cubs' end-of-the-year rotation, Travis Wood, has thrown 200 innings in a season in the big leagues, and it took him until the final game of the season to do it in 2013. Maybe that changes this winter.

Here's another tangible reason the Cubs have a long hill to climb: They finished dead last in the National League in on-base percentage with a .303 mark.

That's not what a Theo Epstein offense has looked like at its best. That's not to say the Cubs should rid themselves of their homer-hitting, high-strikeout players; it just means they'll need to do better than last.

Five of the top eight on-base percentage teams in the NL made the playoffs this season. The Cubs need to jump into that group. A good on-base percentage is still the doorway to a potent offense.

"As an organization, we all feel some momentum going into the offseason," Rizzo said. "That's what we need. Not only the players, but the front office, as well."

This isn't to put a damper on the excitement for Cubs fans. Almost like the previous season, 2014 probably went better than planned ... you know, other than those 89 losses.

It was a relatively healthy season as injuries go, and just about every prospect expected to make it to the majors saw action at Wrigley Field. Success wasn't necessarily the point; experience was. And players such as Rizzo and Starlin Castro re-established themselves as cornerstone players. That was huge.

But nothing has changed in terms of the Cubs' rebuilding plans.

A reminder: Next season will be Phase 2, Year 2. That doesn't sound sexy, but anyone associated with the team will tell you there are no shortcuts.

Phase 1 consisted of two years of trading away older veterans with hefty contracts and restocking the farm system. Mission accomplished. See Hendricks, Neil Ramirez, Bryant and plenty of others for proof.

Phase 2 also is a two-year plan, this time of development.

[+] EnlargeKyle Hendricks
AP Photo/David BanksAs impressive as Kyle Hendricks was as a rookie this season, he hasn't been through the grind of a 162-game season.
This year consisted of new players getting their feet wet. Next season consists of those guys getting more settled while a few new ones make their debuts. A jump to the playoffs isn't realistic, no matter whom they bring in to help.

Yes, it's possible for them to "change the narrative," as Epstein likes to say, but winning over six months takes a lot more than a nice storyline. It takes many special performances. The Cubs aren't quite ready.

"It's going to be nice for them to see what happened," Rizzo said of the rookies. "It's not always easy to make midseason adjustments. When they can finally get that weight off their shoulders and see what happened, it will be nice."

That kind of introspection doesn't come with a playoff-ready team. It comes with a developing one. Again, it doesn't mean Cubs manager Rick Renteria shouldn't shoot for the stars. After all, he'll have a shiny new toy to play with when 2013 first-round pick Bryant is called up. He could be a franchise-changing player.

"The message is going to be, 'We're playing to win next year,'" Renteria said. "Why wouldn't anyone want goals to have success in the coming years? I'm laying extremely high expectations."

That's what any manager would say, no matter what his roster looks like. It's not impossible for the Cubs to get off to a good start next season and ride a wave; it's just improbable. But one of these years, that winning tone the manager sets will take hold. That's when Phase 3 begins.

"It's a long process to get there," Rizzo said. "You respect every team that's celebrating. Every game counts. It's every day for 162. It's a mindset. You have to gear your sights and thoughts for the right things."

The Cubs are one step closer. They're down to perhaps one more year, at which point we can start to dissect the path to the postseason. Even then, the Cubs will not have reached their peak, but they will finally be in a position to do so -- as long as the talent they've assembled is for real.

"There's always optimism, and now you can see it everywhere," Rizzo said.

Rapid Reaction: Cubs 4, Cardinals 3

September, 23, 2014
Sep 23
10:25
PM CT
Rogers By Jesse Rogers
ESPNChicago.com
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CHICAGO – The Cubs beat the St. Louis Cardinals 4-3 in 10 innings on Tuesday night. Here’s a quick look at the game.

How it happened: Welington Castillo drove in Anthony Rizzo with the winning run after Rizzo doubled with one out in the bottom of the 10th inning. The Cubs got out to a 2-0 lead when Castillo drove a ball into the left-field bleachers in the bottom of the second inning for his 13th home run of the season. They added one in the fifth on a Matt Szczur home run, his second of the year. But the Cardinals tied it in the sixth while chasing starter Kyle Hendricks. Matt Holliday hit a game-tying, two-run home run before Castillo's heroics in the 10th.

What it means: Hendricks pitched well but got hit in his final inning. Still, he gave up just five base knocks and made that one bad pitch to Holliday. His ERA climbed to 2.46 with one start to go, as he’ll pitch the season finale Sunday in Milwaukee. Szczur had only one home run in 414 at-bats in the minors this season. He has two in fewer than 60 at-bats in the big leagues.

Rotation set: Before the game, manager Rick Renteria announced the three starters for this weekend's season-finale series in Milwaukee. Eric Jokisch will pitch Friday, Tsuyoshi Wada on Saturday and Hendricks on Sunday.

What’s next: Game 3 against the Cardinals takes place Wednesday night and features Jake Arrieta (9-5, 2.65 ERA) against John Lackey (3-2, 4.50).

Cubs come across ideal offensive blueprint

September, 21, 2014
Sep 21
6:29
PM CT
Padilla By Doug Padilla
ESPNChicago.com
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Jacob Turner Jonathan Daniel/Getty ImagesJacob Turner lasted just five innings against the Dodgers offense.


CHICAGO -- Over one long weekend series, the Chicago Cubs caught an in-your-face glimpse of who they aspire to be one day one day in the future.

The playoff-contending Los Angeles Dodgers slugged their way to a series victory, even when their top pitchers were far from at their best, and Sunday’s 8-5 defeat came when their opponent used only relief pitchers for nine innings.

From the fifth inning Thursday until the completion of Sunday’s game, the Dodgers scored an impressive 36 runs, showing that offense can carry a club even when the pitching staff isn’t first-rate.

Nobody is going to average nine runs a game for an entire season, but for a team that is expected to have Anthony Rizzo, Javier Baez, Jorge Soler and Starlin Castro in key roles next season, the Cubs have the potential to light up a scoreboard over brief four-game stretches like the Dodgers just did.

“We have a lot of good hitters in here, a lot of young guys, and with the time and the experience I think we’re going to be really good,” said Welington Castillo, who hit an eighth-inning home run, two days after leaving a game with a rib injury.

(Read full post)

Rapid Reaction: Dodgers 8, Cubs 5

September, 21, 2014
Sep 21
5:08
PM CT
Padilla By Doug Padilla
ESPNChicago.com
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CHICAGO -- The Chicago Cubs fell 8-5 to the Los Angeles Dodgers on Sunday to conclude the second-to-last home series of the season.

How it happened: A day after collecting two home runs among his four hits, the Cubs’ Chris Coghlan went 2-for-5 with a double and three strikeouts. Cubs starter Jacob Turner gave up five runs on eight hits over five innings. The Dodgers beat the Cubs with their bullpen as reliever-turned-starter Jamey Wright gave up one run over two innings, while five other relievers backed him up. The Dodgers’ Yasiel Puig scored a career high four runs, while Matt Kemp had four hits, including his 23rd home run, and four RBIs.

What it means: Even a productive offense is nothing without a strong pitching staff. Case point: the Cubs scored 22 runs in the four-game series (an average of 5.5 runs a game), yet still lost three out of four, and needed an impressive comeback to win the one game. It happened because the Cubs pitching staff has given up 37 runs over the last 32 innings, after giving up just one run over the first 31 innings of the homestand (three games against the Reds and the first four innings against the Dodgers).

Outside the box:
The Cubs and Dodgers combined for 16 first-inning runs in the series, with the Dodgers collecting 10 of them. The Cubs scored two runs in the opening inning Thursday, three Friday and one Saturday. The Dodgers scored six in the first inning Friday, two Saturday and two Sunday.

Off beat: In turning a nice heads-up play on defense in the third inning, the young Cubs also got a prime example of what happens when you don’t hustle on offense. With the Dodgers’ Hanley Ramirez on first base, Carl Crawford hit a routine fly ball to Coghlan in left field. Coghlan caught the ball, got it into shortstop Javier Baez, who relayed the ball to first baseman Anthony Rizzo, all while Ramirez nonchalantly made his way back to first base. Ramirez was originally called safe, but a replay review overruled the call, turning it into a 7-6-3 double play.

Up next: The Cubs will send left-hander Travis Wood (8-12, 4.86 ERA) to the mound Monday against St. Louis in the opener of the final three-game home series of the season. The Cardinals will counter with right-hander Adam Wainwright (19-9, 2.45) in the 7:05 p.m. CST start from Wrigley Field.

Rizzo, Alcantara out of lineup

September, 16, 2014
Sep 16
6:59
PM CT
Rogers By Jesse Rogers
ESPNChicago.com
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CHICAGO -- Anthony Rizzo wasn't in the starting lineup against the Cincinnati Reds on Tuesday, as the Chicago Cubs are playing it cautious with his back one day after he returned and hit a game-winning home run.

“He’s been down three weeks,” manager Rick Renteria said Tuesday afternoon. “As far as we’re concerned, it’s like a rehab schedule.”

Rizzo missed 18 games with a sore back but returned Monday and promptly hit a walk-off blast in the Cubs' 1-0 win over the Reds. After the game Rizzo said he would see how he felt in the morning, but Renteria said the plan going forward is to take it easy on the Cubs first baseman either way.

“I would say I still plan on giving him every other day and then increase his playing time to two days in a row, maybe three,” Renteria said. “But I have to let it play itself out before I decide where he’s at.”

The Cubs also are without center fielder Arismendy Alcantara after the rookie ran into the wall while making a game-saving catch in the eighth inning Monday. He injured his right hand in the process.

“He’s a little sore,” Renteria said. “Right now, it’s just soreness.”

Alcantara had an MRI, but the results weren’t known before the game. He was seen with a wrap around his right wrist and hand. Renteria declared his status day-to-day.

GM: Cubs' needs include veteran leadership

September, 16, 2014
Sep 16
9:00
AM CT
Rogers By Jesse Rogers
ESPNChicago.com
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Jonny GomesAP Photo/Charles Rex ArbogastJonny Gomes has the veteran edge the Cubs seek, though he's more of a platoon player.
CHICAGO -- Chicago Cubs general manager Jed Hoyer gave insight Monday into the team’s offseason needs -- other than pitching -- in saying that veteran leadership will be a priority.

“We need to add some guys to our roster that can help provide that,” Hoyer said before the Cubs beat the Cincinnati Reds. “We also have to lengthen out our position-player group.”

As much as Anthony Rizzo and Starlin Castro have taken over leadership roles, the Cubs still think they need help. It wasn’t that long ago that the two All-Stars were finding their way themselves. In fact, they still are.

“They probably need some guys around them that can teach them the right things to do,” Hoyer said. “I’ve talked to them both individually about that and they want to do it, but I don’t think right now they have enough experience, or I don’t think they’ve been around enough guys that are real clubhouse leaders that have taught them the ropes. I think we need to provide that for those guys.”

So who can the Cubs bring in and where would they play? Hoyer said many starting jobs will be filled by young prospects, some of whom have already made their major league debuts this season.

“That takes up a fair number of positions," Hoyer said, "but we wouldn’t rule out adding a starting player or two that can help there as well."

Going around the infield and outfield as it’s currently constituted, there would seem to be only a couple of openings for a true starter unless the Cubs are going to push a young player aside. Hoyer said it wasn’t a sure thing that the franchise's minor league player of the year, Kris Bryant, would begin the season as the Cubs' starting third baseman, but the team has a good stopgap in Luis Valbuena. Left field is a possibility -- Chris Coghlan has had a nice season there but could be an extra outfielder or platoon player when it’s all said and done.

How does a player with championship experience such as Jonny Gomes sound? That’s the kind of leadership the Cubs are undoubtedly looking for, though he wouldn’t necessarily be an everyday player. But remember, there aren’t a lot of players in their prime who become free agents these days. Baltimore’s Nelson Cruz will be available after a huge year, for example, but he comes with the baggage of having served a PED suspension last season. So a quasi-starter who has winning experience might be the best option.

[+] EnlargeRussell Martin
Mitchell Leff/Getty ImagesRussell Martin is a pennant-chase veteran and is a presence both offensively and defensively.
Looking at the current incumbents, the only other possible positions the Cubs might explore are center field and catcher. Hoyer praised Welington Castillo for his hard work, but, reading between the lines, he left the door open for a replacement behind the plate considering Castillo hasn’t had the best of years.

“Early this season he really didn’t capitalize on the big second half he had last year,” Hoyer said of the 27-year-old. “Everyone’s hope was he would springboard off that big second half and go right into this year. That didn’t happen, but at the same time he’s been better in the second half.”

Again, while saying the Cubs want to see more, there was still plenty of praise for Castillo.

“His name doesn’t get mentioned a lot when we talk about our established young veterans, but I think he can be in that mix as well,” Hoyer said. “He’s shown glimpses of being a front-line guy."

But that doesn’t mean the Cubs can’t do better. Castillo is still behind the eight ball when it comes to calling a game and getting the best out of his pitchers. The Pirates’ Russell Martin is the biggest of the catching names that will become a free agent at year’s end, and he could check all the boxes in terms of offense and defense. A young pitching staff sometimes screams for a veteran catcher. John Baker has helped on the defensive end, but doesn’t have the bat to play -- and lead -- every day.

Center field could be in play as well. Arismendy Alcantara showed great instincts when he was first called up, but he’s had some growing pains and his plate discipline could be a concern; he’s produced a 5-to-1 strikeout-to-walk ratio in the big leagues so far.

That's not to say Alcantara will be pushed aside, but the Cubs might want to bring in a veteran to show him the way. And it remains to be seen if he’s the leadoff hitter the Cubs will employ when they are ready to contend. But expect Alcantara to be given every chance to be the man in center ... at least until prospect Albert Almora is ready. That doesn’t mean Alcantara can’t still move around the diamond again. He’s that versatile.

Some more depth should come from within as the Cubs have developed possible role players in Logan Watkins or Matt Szczur, but they don’t fit the veteran need Hoyer discussed. A dangerous lineup of young talent, mixed with some experience and understanding of how to get on base, is the Cubs' ideal.

“When you do accomplish it, it’s really hard on the pitchers,” Hoyer said of a good Nos. 1 through 8 in the order. “They’re not used to it over here [National League] as much.”

So while keeping an eye on where free-agent-to-be pitcher Jon Lester is going to sign, also watch some veteran position players. The Cubs are bound to grab at least one.

Rizzo returns to Cubs with a blast

September, 15, 2014
Sep 15
11:10
PM CT
Rogers By Jesse Rogers
ESPNChicago.com
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Anthony RizzoAP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast"When we get to where we want to be," Anthony Rizzo said, "you'll see me jumping for joy."

CHICAGO – He’s baaaaack.

Chicago Cubs first baseman Anthony Rizzo hit the game-winning, walk-off home run in his team’s 1-0 victory over the Cincinnati Reds on Monday night, 19 games after hitting his previous home run, also against the Reds.

“Second pitch I just let loose,” Rizzo said of his ninth-inning at-bat against Pedro Villarreal. “Put a good swing on it.”

In between the home runs, Rizzo sat on the bench for 18 games after his back stiffened up during one of the many rain delays the Cubs have endured this season. With no rehab assignment available for him at this time of year, Rizzo started Monday's game cold. Literally, in fact, as the weather has turned back to that chilly early-season feel. But that didn’t stop Rizzo, at least not at the end.

“The first two [at-bats] were a battle,” he said. “He definitely exposed me there.”

He being Reds starter Alfredo Simon, who struck out Rizzo twice before the Cubs All-Star started to feel comfortable again. And it wasn't long before Rizzo found his groove, as he took Villarreal to deep center field to end the game.

“It’s good that it’s the end of the year and I played a lot of games before this,” Rizzo said of shaking off the rust.

Before the game, Rizzo spoke of taking over a leadership role on the team, while a few minutes later general manager Jed Hoyer said he wants to give Rizzo and Starlin Castro some help in that department this offseason. Until then, this is Rizzo’s team, if for no other reason than because he’s leading on the field. He’s had a monster offensive season, including those 31 home runs. And he knows the Cubs are on the verge of turning a corner, though he also knows they aren’t there just yet.

“I see what we have and it’s exciting,” Rizzo said. “I’m not going to get on the hype train like everyone else does. I’m going to make sure we stay in our lane. When we get to where we want to be, you’ll see me jumping for joy.”

That’s the stuff leaders say -- even after hitting a walk-off home run. Rizzo will check to make sure his back is all right Tuesday morning, and if there are any issues he’ll notify the training staff. He understands what’s at stake this season -- not much -- and what’s at stake in the years to come: much more.

“No need to push anything,” Rizzo said. “I’m not too worried about it.”

Rizzo jokingly grabbed his back as he hit home plate and during the ensuing celebration, but admitted he “thought” about it during the game, as anyone coming off such an injury would. As for the Cubs' chances in the future, Rizzo finally played with Jorge Soler for the first time but is still waiting on a three-time All-Star to return to the lineup -- Castro has been out with an ankle sprain.

“We’ll all be together when we win the World Series,” Rizzo smiled. “Right now it’s a work in progress.”

Rapid Reaction: Cubs 1, Reds 0

September, 15, 2014
Sep 15
10:00
PM CT
Rogers By Jesse Rogers
ESPNChicago.com
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CHICAGO – The Chicago Cubs beat the Cincinnati Reds 1-0 on Monday night. Here’s a quick look at the game.

How it happened: Anthony Rizzo hit a walk-off home run off Pedro Villarreal in the ninth inning on a chilly night on which neither team mustered much offense. Rizzo led the frame with his 31st homer of the season to center field, then he was mobbed by teammates at home plate. Travis Wood pitched six scoreless innings and gave up just three hits, and the bullpen finished the shutout. Alfredo Simon was just as good for Cincinnati, as he lasted seven innings and gave up five hits.

What it means: Rizzo returned to the lineup in dramatic fashion, as he played for the first time after missing 18 games with a back injury. He hit his 30th home run Aug. 26, in the game in which he suffered the injury, and almost three weeks later, he hit a no-doubter for his 31st.

Jackson update: Before the game, Cubs manager Rick Renteria said pitcher Edwin Jackson was close to returning from a right latissimus strain. The plan was for the right-hander to pitch a simulated game, then possibly get one or two starts before the end of the month.

Minor affiliates: General manager Jed Hoyer confirmed the Cubs have terminated agreements with three of their minor league Class A affiliates, including the Midwest League champion Kane County Cougars. Agreements with short-season Boise of the Northwest League and Daytona of the Florida State League have also ended.

“You have to do that to look around,” Hoyer said. “There’s no other way to do that process.”

Starting Tuesday, the Cubs are free to explore other affiliate opportunities. They could also return to those franchises.

What’s next: Game 2 of the series is scheduled for 7:05 p.m. CT Tuesday, with Jake Arrieta (8-5, 2.82 ERA) to oppose Johnny Cueto (18-8, 2.15).

Olt to play first once healthy

September, 2, 2014
Sep 2
8:58
PM CT
Rogers By Jesse Rogers
ESPNChicago.com
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CHICAGO – Chicago Cubs infielder Mike Olt will return to the team in the coming days while he rehabs a hamstring injury, team president Theo Epstein said on Tuesday. Olt will be part of the group of players called up from the minors when rosters expanded Monday.

"There will be a slot at first base, [and we'll] get him some at-bats while [Anthony] Rizzo is out," Epstein said.

It will be Olt's second stint with the team after he struggled earlier this season in his first time around. After earning a job in spring training, he hit just .139 with 12 home runs in 189 at-bats for the Cubs. As the season went on, his power became more sporadic, while his strikeout total rose. He struck out 84 times before being demoted in late July.

Olt hit well for Triple-A Iowa while playing first base and produced a .302 batting average with seven home runs in 28 games. Rizzo's being out with a back injury should give Olt plenty of playing time in the final month of the season -- good news, given that his future with the team is murky. He hasn't played since mid-August due to the hamstring strain.

Anthony Rizzo (back) out of lineup again

August, 28, 2014
Aug 28
9:44
AM CT
Rogers By Jesse Rogers
ESPNChicago.com
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Chicago Cubs first baseman Anthony Rizzo is not in the starting lineup for the second straight game against the Cincinnati Reds after leaving the series opener on Tuesday with lower back tightness.

Rizzo
Rizzo didn’t play in Wednesday’s 7-5 loss to the Reds and gets another day of rest on Thursday. Cubs officials don’t believe the injury is serious. Chris Valaika will get his second straight start at first base and bat seventh.

Outfielder Jorge Soler is back in the lineup on Thursday, batting fifth and playing right field again after homering in his first at-bat in his major league debut on Wednesday night.

According to ESPN Stats and Information, the Cubs became the first team in history to have two players, each 22 or younger, hit a home run in their first major league games in the same season. Second baseman Javier Baez (21) also homered in his first game earlier this month in Colorado. Soler went 2-for-4 with 2 RBIs in the loss.

Here’s the Cubs lineup against the Reds:

1. Chris Coghlan LF
2. Baez 2B
3. Starlin Castro, SS
4. Luis Valbuena, 3B
5. Soler, RF
6. Arismendy Alcantara, CF
7. Valaika, 1B
8. John Baker, C
9. Jake Arrieta, P

Jorge Soler excited for opportunity

August, 27, 2014
Aug 27
6:06
PM CT
By Mark Schmetzer
Special to ESPNChicago.com
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CINCINNATI -- The player Chicago Cubs president Theo Epstein described as having the body of an athlete perhaps more suited to the National Football League donned his jersey with a lineman’s number – 68 – and took the field at Cincinnati’s Great American Ball Park for his highly anticipated major league debut Wednesday.

Jorge Soler, 22, batting fifth and playing right field against the Reds, was just trying to keep his emotions under control.

[+] EnlargeJorge Soler
Joe Robbins/Getty Images

It took Jorge Soler only four pitches to tally his first career home run.

“I’m so excited,” Soler said through coaching staff assistant and interpreter Franklin Font while sitting in the steamy visitors dugout about three hours before the scheduled 6:10 p.m. CT first pitch. “I’m thankful for the team giving me this opportunity. I’ve waited two years for this moment.”

Part of Cubs manager Rick Renteria’s job is to help the 6-foot-4, 215-pound right-handed slugging prospect keep his emotions under control. Renteria already has a lot of experience with that task this season, based on the number of prospects who’ve made their major league debuts with the Cubs this season. Soler will make it eight.

“I’m sure it’s pretty high and I’m hoping that, like all these guys, after the first pitch, first swing, first play, first run or whatever it is, it kind of dissipates, and then you just go out and play baseball,” Renteria said before Wednesday’s game about Soler’s level of emotion.

Soler was with Iowa in Tacoma, Washington, when manager Marty Pevey told him Monday that he was being called up to the major leagues.

“I was real surprised,” said Soler, who figured the Cubs would wait until Sept. 1 when active rosters can be expanded from 25 to 40.

Soler arrived in Cincinnati about 11 p.m. Tuesday after a day of traveling from Tacoma, so he wasn’t even in town when his arrival became even more important to the Cubs. Right fielder Ryan Sweeney left Tuesday’s game in the second inning with a left hamstring strain, and first baseman Anthony Rizzo departed in the eighth with tightness in his lower back, but not before logging his 30th home run of the season in the first inning.

Sweeney was placed on the 15-day disabled list Wednesday, along with outfielder Justin Ruggiano, who has left-ankle inflammation. Ruggiano's assignment is retroactive to Aug. 23.

Rizzo’s status was less definitive, but more hopeful for the Cubs.

“It’s day-to-day,” Renteria said. “We’ll check in throughout the day today as he’s being treated and see how he’s doing. Hopefully, we’ll have a better idea of how he’s feeling during the ballgame.”

Rizzo’s injury deprived the Cubs of immediately seeing what their lineup would look like with his and Soler’s bats present at the same time. Renteria has given little to no thought about how he will deploy the two when both are available.

“I’ll kind of figure that out as we go along,” he said. “Right now, I have him where I have him. We’ll see how he fits when everybody’s healthy and we see how some of the matchups play out. You would have to allow me an opportunity to at least see him a little bit before I start deciding on how I’m going to proceed.”

Meanwhile, Renteria was doing what he could to ease Soler’s transition.

“I welcomed him, made sure he got together with [third-base coach Gary Jones] to make sure he’s got the signs, and let him know that if there’s anything we can do for him to let us know, but to just go out there and have some fun,” Renteria said.

Did Soler have anything Renteria could do for him?

“He just smiled,” the manager said. “This is a great opportunity. They’re going to be playing on the biggest stage of the game of baseball, and you want them to feel comfortable. You want them to know that you’re here for them and you’re pulling for them. You want them to have a sense that we appreciate the situation and the circumstances they’re in, and we’re hoping that they have success.”

Rapid Reaction: Cubs 3, Reds 0

August, 26, 2014
Aug 26
10:09
PM CT
Rogers By Jesse Rogers
ESPNChicago.com
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The Chicago Cubs beat the Cincinnati Reds 3-0 on Tuesday night. Here’s a quick look at the game.

How it happened: Before a short rain delay in the first inning, Anthony Rizzo took Johnny Cueto deep to right for his 30th home run of the season. Arismendy Alcantara also went out to right with a man on in the seventh inning to extend the Chicago lead. Travis Wood kept the Reds off balance all night and gave up just two hits and a walk over six innings. He struck out five. Three relievers shut down the Reds the rest of the way, and Hector Rondon earned his 22nd save.

What it means: The Cubs have been pitching lights out, and they followed up a one-hit effort on Sunday by giving up just three Tuesday. It was one of Wood’s best starts of the season; a strong final month for him can’t hurt going into next season. The Cubs' team ERA in August is a sparkling 2.96. That’s second best in the National League this month.

Baez whiffs: Javier Baez struck out four times. It was his fourth four-strikeout game this season. According to ESPN Stats and Information, Baez became the first player in more than 100 years to reach that mark in his first 21 career games.

Rizzo leaves: Rizzo became just the sixth player in baseball to reach 30 home runs this season, a feat he achieved for the first time in his young career. Not only has he increased his power this season, he’s done it while bringing up his batting average, which was a point of criticism last year. He left the game after batting in the seventh inning; replays showed him wincing after his swing and a jog to first base. Cubs broadcaster Len Kasper said Rizzo left with lower back tightness. Outfielder Ryan Sweeney also left the game with a reported hamstring strain.

Castro’s return: Starlin Castro played for the first time in a week after he was activated from the bereavement list. He had two hits in his first game since Aug. 19.

What’s next: Game 2 of the series takes place on Wednesday night at 6:10 CT when Jacob Turner (4-7, 5.77 ERA) makes his first start as a Cub. He’ll face Mat Latos (4-3, 2.99). Outfield prospect Jorge Soler is expected to make his major league debut.

Rizzo won't comment on suspended game

August, 21, 2014
Aug 21
12:04
AM CT
Rogers By Jesse Rogers
ESPNChicago.com
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CHICAGO -- Before Wednesday's game against the San Francisco Giants, Chicago Cubs first baseman Anthony Rizzo was diplomatic about the notion the San Francisco Giants probably didn't get a fair outcome when umpires declared the Cubs winners the night before in a 4 1/2-inning game that was called because of unplayable conditions after a 15-minute downpour and a 4-hour, 34-minute delay.

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"I can see why they are very upset, but it's the rule," Rizzo said before the Cubs lost to the Giants 8-3 on Wednesday night. "A rule is a rule. We have no problems with the Giants. We respect them. It's unfortunate. It just happened."

That was before the Giants won a protest of the game. About an hour before the first pitch Wednesday, the league said the game Tuesday would now be suspended and completed Thursday afternoon.

"I think it would be better if I didn't comment on that," Rizzo said after the new decision was announced.

No one likes giving back a win, and in this case the Cubs' hierarchy helped the Giants make their case. They admitted the tarp wasn't properly ready to be deployed, opening the door for winning the protest.

"I will reiterate what I said last night, I believe in karma," manager Rick Renteria said. "And everyone was trying to do the right thing yesterday. We didn't make the decision, the league made the decision, this is what should be done. We're going to abide by it and hopefully we'll go out there and finish it off."

But again, the Cubs helped the league make the decision by advocating for the Giants. Earlier, general manager Jed Hoyer admitted sportsmanship won out over the Cubs adding a win to their season. That might be easier to swallow for someone in management but not a player.

"I'm just not going to say anything about it," a clearly annoyed Rizzo said.

Castro to go on bereavement list

August, 20, 2014
Aug 20
11:31
PM CT
Rogers By Jesse Rogers
ESPNChicago.com
Archive
CHICAGO -- The Chicago Cubs expect shortstop Starlin Castro to go on the bereavement list as he tends to a death in his family in the Dominican Republic.

"It's a family tragedy, so we'll just take it one day at a time," Cubs manager Rick Renteria said after the Cubs' 8-3 loss to the San Francisco Giants on Wednesday.

Castro was scratched from the lineup about two hours before the game. It was the first time he hadn't started a game this season.

"That's life," teammate Anthony Rizzo said. "Anything can happen at any moment. You have to be grateful for a lot of things."

Per league rules, Castro will miss three to seven days. This season, Castro is hitting .284 with 13 home runs and 64 RBIs.

Unsung position player: Anthony Rizzo

August, 14, 2014
Aug 14
10:14
AM CT
Schoenfield By David Schoenfield
ESPNChicago.com
Archive

This could just be the circles I hang out in or the articles I read, but doesn't it seem like we've heard more about Javier Baez and Kris Bryant this year than Anthony Rizzo?

I mean, I get that we love prospects, we love the hype, we love to build these kids up as the next great thing. That's fun, it's even natural; after all, we're often bored with mediocrity and we can grow to detest lousy players.

The minor league exploits of Baez and Bryant -- and the recent major league exploits of Baez -- have certainly been enjoyable to follow, but their futures are unknown. Maybe they'll be great, maybe not; hype doesn't guarantee anything.

But the Chicago Cubs already have a great young player in Rizzo, who just turned 25 last week, and we seem to have widely ignored him, at least on a national level. OK, he hasn't been completely ignored -- he did make the All-Star team, after all -- but consider what he's done this year:
  • Second in the National League with 27 home runs. Maybe he doesn't hit them 800 feet like Giancarlo Stanton, but Rizzo has only four fewer home runs. I feel like I've seen every Stanton home run on the highlight reels but very few of Rizzo's.
  • He's seventh in the NL in on-base percentage and sixth in walks -- and walks are good. (Take note, Javier!)
  • He's third among major league first basemen in WAR, behind only Paul Goldschmidt and Jose Abreu, which means he ranks higher than Miguel Cabrera and Freddie Freeman.


I bring up Baez and Bryant because I think what happened with Rizzo flying under the radar this season is that after hitting .233 last year -- in his first full season in the majors, mind you -- fans sort of wrote Rizzo off to some extent. This is what happens with young players projected as potential stars; the expectations are high and the expectations are immediate. Will the same thing happen to Baez and Bryant if they don't hit 30 home runs in their first seasons?

Anyway, Rizzo still had a lot of positives in 2013: 23 home runs, 40 doubles, 76 walks. Those are all good things, even if they were lost in the .233 average. But he also may have been the unluckiest hitter in the majors last year. He had one of the lowest averages on balls in play (.258) in the majors, even though his "hard-hit" percentage ranked 24th among qualified batters. His line-drive percentage was league average. So there were no obvious pointers (like excessive infield popups) that explained the .258 BABIP.

He wasn't bad -- just unlucky. He still had the same skills that had impressed everyone during his partial season in 2012. This year, his BABIP is up (.297), his line-drive rate is up 2 percent and a higher percentage of his fly balls have cleared the fence instead of landing just short.

The exciting thing is he's still young enough to improve. Maybe you've moved on to Baez and Bryant. But the best Cubs hitter for the next six years? Don't be surprised if it's Rizzo.

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TEAM LEADERS

WINS LEADER
Jake Arrieta
WINS ERA SO IP
10 2.53 167 156
OTHER LEADERS
BAS. Castro .292
HRA. Rizzo 32
RBIA. Rizzo 78
RA. Rizzo 89
OPSA. Rizzo .913
ERAT. Wood 5.03
SOJ. Arrieta 167