The Chicago Cubs have been in a free fall since baseball's July 31 non-waiver trade deadline.
As part of the club's ongoing rebuilding plan, starting pitchers Paul Maholm and Ryan Dempster were traded away for prospects prior to the deadline. The trades of Dempster and Maholm, coupled with the injury to Matt Garza, left the Cubs with a thin and inexperienced starting rotation. The only saving grace in this lost season in Wrigleyville has been the play of young slugger Anthony Rizzo.
Rizzo arrived in Chicago in late-June after scorching Pacific Coast League pitching for 23 home runs and a 1.101 OPS in just 70 games. The promotion to the major leagues hasn't slowed down the 23-year-old first baseman. In 72 games with the Cubs, Rizzo has clubbed 14 home runs, knocked in 43, and posted a .843 OPS.
The Pittsburgh Pirates were the latest National League opponent to the feel the wrath of Wrigley Field's newest hero. Rizzo went 3-for-5 with a double, two home runs, and six RBIs in Sunday's 13-9 come-from-behind victory over the Pirates. The loss dropped Pittsburgh to 73-72 on the season and three games behind the Cardinals for the NL's second wild card. Rizzo's performance placed him front and center in the hearts and minds of Cubs fans.
Other than spoiling the Pirates' postseason hopes, the Cubs don't have much to play for these days. The Cubs are just trying to avoid the dreaded 100-loss mark. Rizzo gives fans a reason to keep tuning in and showing up to the ballpark. The key now will be surrounding Rizzo with the type of talent to build a contender. While starting pitchers like Jason Berken, Chris Rusin, and Justin Germano don't inspire much confidence, the play of youngsters like Rizzo and Brett Jackson, along with young veteran Starlin Castro give the Wrigley faithful some hope for better days ahead.
Chicago's rebuilding process will be slow and deliberate, but the Cubs have a keeper in Rizzo.
*Information gathered from http://www.baseball-reference.com.
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- Anthony Rizzo
- Ryan Dempster
- Paul Maholm