By Chris Emma–
CHICAGO (CBS) — In rising to stardom, Cubs first baseman Anthony Rizzo hasn’t changed.
Brought in five years ago as a promising prospect, Rizzo became the face of the franchise. He was the first of the promising prospects to arrive at Wrigley Field and is now the Cubs’ cornerstone.
Rizzo is one of baseball’s rising superstars, yet he remains the same humble guy. He always has time for others, whether it’s a teammate or a young fan in need of a smile. There’s no flash or flair as he shines brighter.
“It just tells you he was raised the right way,” Cubs catcher David Ross said of Rizzo.
Now 26, Rizzo is a bonafide MVP candidate. He has 24 home runs and 71 RBIs, including a pair of balls crushed deep into the right field bleachers Wednesday in a 6-2 win against the Mets at Wrigley Field.
Five years ago when Rizzo made his Cubs debut, he was just the beginning of Theo Epstein’s plan. Now, Rizzo is starring alongside the core of Kris Bryant, Addison Russell, Jason Heyward, Jake Arrieta, Jon Lester and more.
The Cubs are one of baseball’s best teams, a World Series favorite from the offseason on. After winning 97 games and reaching the NLCS last season, they’re even better. It’s been a team effort, with the young stars joining Rizzo in the big leagues.
Still, this is Rizzo’s team.
“He’s almost like old news, because he’s 26, going on 27,” Cubs manager Joe Maddon said of Rizzo. “But this guy’s the anchor of the whole group.”
Added Ross: “He’s our staple.”
Rizzo can be considered a leading candidate for National League MVP. He boasts a .999 OPS and entered Wednesday with a 3.4 WAR, which is bound to rise. Rizzo’s 110 home runs since 2013 are the most of any National League player, and he’s earned three All-Star nods in that time.
Perhaps the greatest competition Rizzo has for MVP is his close friend, Bryant. The two compete against each other for home run and RBI totals. Now, they’re neck and neck in the MVP race.
“That’s just going to take care of itself,” Rizzo said of the MVP race with Bryant. “With him and I, we just kind of pace each other.”
Of course, that MVP race is going to heat up as the season progresses. Rizzo, Bryant and the Cubs sure aren’t going anywhere.
While Rizzo took the humble route in addressing the MVP chances, his manager believes the hype.
“He’s got that level of ability — offensively, defensively, homers, driving in runs, hitting in the middle of the batting order, Maddon said. “He’s the anchor of that whole group, there’s no question about it.”
Maddon sees Bryant on an MVP level, too. Let the debate begin.
The Cubs have an all-around player in Bryant, who entered Wednesday with an NL-best 5.0 WAR. He brings the positional versatility that Maddon loves, playing left field and right field in addition to his more comfortable third base. Bryant has played center field, shortstop and first base, too.
However, Rizzo will get the MVP attention because of his powerful bat in the heart of the Cubs’ order.
“This guy is doing MVP-caliber stuff on a daily basis for us,” Ross said of Rizzo.
As crazy as it may seem, five offseasons ago the talk was for the Cubs to bring in aging Albert Pujols or Prince Fielder as their first baseman of the future. Needless to say, Epstein got it right with Rizzo.
Maddon has a point, too, because Rizzo isn’t yet appreciated in the manner he deserves — at least not yet. America is finally taking notice of the Cubs’ cornerstone.
Rizzo has led the Cubs in their rise to baseball’s best, and now he’s a leader in the NL MVP race. No matter the success or accolades, Rizzo isn’t changing.
The Cubs’ anchor is steady as his star rises.