Adding three more home runs since the All-Star break, Chicago Cubs first baseman Anthony Rizzo showed once again why he is considered to be a franchise cornerstone moving forward.
The 24-year-old slugger his 23rd homer of the season Saturday afternoon against the Diamondbacks to tie his career high. Although he demonstrated the same power stroke last season, he hit just .233 for Chicago. This season, he has shown the ability to hit against left-handed pitchers, which was his kryptonite in 2013, as well as work around defensive shifts – both of which have led to an average over 40 points higher entering Sunday’s series finale with the Diamondbacks.
Rizzo is tied for the National League in home runs with Miami Marlins star Giancarlo Stanton. South Florida’s power-hitting outfielder does have 12 more RBIs than Rizzo, which can largely be attributed to the overall weakness of the Cubs lineup. As a team, Chicago ranks better than just one National League club in terms of on-base percentage – the San Diego Padres.
His average is also nearly 20 points lower than Stanton, who according to many around the game, is one of the leading candidates for National League MVP. Others include Clayton Kershaw and Troy Tulowitzki who is making Rizzo’s teammate, Starlin Castro‘s season look average with a monstrous 2014 campaign at the dish.
With Rizzo’s recent power streak (he has six home runs in July, despite the near-week break for All-Star festivities), one has to wonder if he could emerge as an MVP candidate himself. He’s on pace for nearly 35 homers and somewhere in the neighborhood of 85-90 RBIs – a number that, as mentioned, is far lower than it should be. He’s emerged as not only a leader on the field for an extremely young Cubs squad, but also in the clubhouse, serving a role that has previously been filled by longtime veterans of the game such as Alfonso Soriano.
He’s figured out lefties, he’s found a consistent power stroke and he’s quickly hurdled Castro to become the face of the franchise. The only thing that will keep Rizzo from being a legitimate MVP consideration is the team’s woeful performance in terms of wins and losses. In the last three years in the National League, the eventual MVP winners all played for playoff clubs (Andrew McCutchen, Buster Posey and Ryan Braun). The simple truth is this: until the Cubs can field a competitive team, the left-handed swinging Rizzo won’t have a legitimate shot at serious hardware. He might draw some votes, but he won’t top the list.