Chicago Cubs: Anthony Rizzo is seeing pitches and punishing mistakes

(Photo by Tim Warner/Getty Images)
(Photo by Tim Warner/Getty Images) /

Chicago Cubs first baseman Anthony Rizzo is quietly putting together the best offensive season of his career as he eyes a second World Series championship.

The bright spot of Monday’s series-opening loss to the Houston Astros? Anthony Rizzo launched his team-leading 15th home run of the season, a two-run shot that gave the Chicago Cubs an early advantage. That’s been the story for the three-time All-Star of late – and he shows no signs of slowing down anytime soon.

Last year, Rizzo didn’t hit his 15th homer of the year until the end of July. In 2014, 2016 and 2017, when he hit a career-high 32 long balls, he didn’t hit the 15-homer mark until the middle of June. This season, he’s on pace for well over 40 homers – which would shatter his previous personal best.

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There’s little doubt how important Anthony Rizzo is to the Cubs’ success. His value runs far deeper than his mammoth home runs. With veteran Ben Zobrist still on the restricted list, Rizzo probably works an at-bat better than anyone else on the roster. Looking at his stat line, a .604 slugging percentage jumps off the page – but that’s far from the whole story.

In 219 plate appearances this year, Rizzo has struck out a mere 29 times. At the same time, he’s drawn 25 walks, culminating in a .406 on-base percentage, which would also mark a personal best should he maintain it over the course of the entire season. He’s a guy who goes to the plate knowing what he’s looking for – and when he gets it, he punishes it far more often than not.

Across his previous six contests, Rizzo carries an otherworldly 1.752 OPS with four home runs, a double and 11 RBI. Of course, the most memorable of those blasts rocked off the Budweiser sign atop the right-field video board at Wrigley Field last week – a testament to the slugger’s power.

Rizzo isn’t alone, either. Baseballs are rocketing out of stadiums across the league at a record pace in 2019. But the Cubs slugger is just fine with how things are playing out for hitters.

"“As a hitter it’s good, and as a fan you want to see home runs,” Rizzo told the Chicago Tribune this weekend. “I don’t know if it’s just a spike in the number of people hitting a bunch of homers, but I do think guys are more comfortable facing pitchers throwing 95, 97, 100 miles an hour more than the last couple years because it’s now the entire league throwing that hard.”"

So far, Rizzo is seeing greater than four pitches per at-bat and he’s barreling up pitches more than five percent more often than he did last year. That alone tells you that this is far more than just a hot stretch – it’s a career performance as he nears his 30th birthday.

Next. Three takeaways from team's recent rough patch. dark

The Cubs have faltered of late, going just 4-6 in their last 10 games. Kris Bryant and Mike Montgomery face uncertain short-term prospects, given their respective injuries, and the starting rotation has hit a wall in the last two weeks. But none of that has mattered to the team’s model of consistency, as he continues to do everything he can to get his team back to the Fall Classic.