Rizzo feels more comfortable this offseason

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Rizzo feels more comfortable this offseason

After his performance last season, Cubs first baseman Anthony Rizzo is almost certain he will stay put this offseason.

Rizzo, who hit .285 with 15 homers and 48 RBIs in 87 games, had the type of season that should lend the youngster a bunch of confidence. But since he has been traded in each of the past two offseasons, Rizzo wont allow himself to get too comfortable, even if management is high on his abilities.

Youve still got to work hard and put in the time, Rizzo said before Saturdays National Italian-American Sports Hall of Fame in Rosemont. But I feel good. I know Im not going to get traded, hopefully at least. I just feel good and confident.

Rizzo should take some solace in the fact Cubs general manager Jed Hoyer and assistant GM Jason McLeod have twice acquired him.

The second of those acquisitions was January 6 when the Cubs dealt Andrew Cashner to the San Diego Padres in exchange for Rizzo.

It was Hoyer and McLeod who also brought Rizzo to the Padres as part of a four-player package that sent Adrian Gonzalez to the Boston Red Sox in December 2010. Though Rizzo wasnt considered the centerpiece of the Gonzalez trade -- Red Sox No. 1 prospect Casey Kelly was also included -- Hoyer and McLeod were clearly excited about the first baseman. The Padres promoted Rizzo to the majors in June 2011 after he tore up Triple-A pitching and believed him to be the franchises first baseman of the future.

But Rizzo hit only .141 in 153 plate appearances with the Padres and after Hoyer and McLeod joined Theo Epstein with the Cubs, Rizzos job status appeared to be in doubt. The Padres new brass made their feelings even more clear when they acquired top prospect and first baseman Yonder Alonso from the Cincinnati Reds last December, which led to Rizzo feeling more uncertain about his future with the Padres.

Less than three weeks later, Rizzo was headed to Chicago.

I had no idea what they were going to do, Rizzo said. Its one of those things that is uncontrollable. I think it worked out for the best. Once (the Alonso trade) happened, I hoped it would be here because Jed and Theo and Jason all came over here. So I was hoping they believed in me and they brought me over and I have an opportunity and have got to keep going with it.

Perhaps it was the belief held by Hoyer, McLeod and Epstein that allowed Rizzo to overcome a slight confidence problem brought on by his struggles in 2011. Unlike the previous season, Rizzo didnt endure long slumps with the Cubs. He reduced his strikeouts from once every 2.78 at-bats in 2011 to once every 5.44 at-bats. He also hit 14 more homers and never gave the Cubs reason to remove him from the lineup.

(My confidence) did waver definitely (in 2011), but it didnt get me down because I knew that it was all mental, Rizzo said. I just got out of it and had some success last year and just want to keep building. Next season, spring training, I just cant wait to get out there and get going.

He hopes with the Cubs.

Kyle Schwarber has rocky start to Triple-A stint

Kyle Schwarber has rocky start to Triple-A stint

The Cubs gave Kyle Schwarber time to sort things out by sending him down to Triple-A Iowa, and Schwarber's first game back in the minors shows he may need some time.

Schwarber's first game with the Iowa Cubs was a forgettable one. He struck out in his first three plate appearances before singling in his last at-bat. He struck out looking in the first inning before striking out swinging his next two times up.

Schwarber batted third in the lineup and played left field. Iowa won 1-0 against the New Orleans Baby Cakes.

He last played for Iowa in 2015, but only spent 17 games there. He hit .333 with three homers and a 1.036 OPS in that short stint. Before getting sent down Schwarber was hitting .171 with the Cubs with 12 home runs, but also 75 strikeouts in 64 games.

Cubs show why they are defending champs while Nationals still have something to prove

Cubs show why they are defending champs while Nationals still have something to prove

WASHINGTON – The Cubs already visited the White House. The Washington Nationals are still the team with so much more to prove.

Dusty Baker needs this October to cement his spot in Cooperstown, the way Joe Maddon put the final bullet point on his Hall of Fame resume. Bryce Harper and Kris Bryant took different routes out of Las Vegas, but only one has the World Series ring to go with the Rookie of the Year/MVP hardware. While the clock is ticking on Max Scherzer and that championship parade down Pennsylvania Avenue, the Jon Lester megadeal essentially paid for itself.

Cubs vs. Nationals is supposed to be a circle-your-calendar event. Except the Cubs rolled out a Cactus League lineup on Monday night and Nationals Park featured rows and rows of empty seats amid a crowd of 29,651 where the celebrity vibe became more George Will than A-Rod and J-Lo.

The Cubs still hung on for a 5-4 victory that might have been their best under-the-circumstances win in a season that will hit the halfway point this weekend, showing why they’re the defending champs.

“It is exciting – don’t get me wrong,” Maddon said. “It’s just that we’re attending with a different group than we thought we would be attending this party with.

“And that’s OK, because these guys now are getting the kind of experience that is going to be very beneficial to us in August and September.”

A rash of injuries forced the Cubs to start Jeimer Candelario at third base and Mark Zagunis in right field and Javier Baez kept making highlight-reel plays while Addison Russell rested his sore right shoulder, leaping to grab to a Harper line drive and racing across the left-field line and sliding into the wall to make another spectacular catch in foul territory.

“Games like this is what we need right now – competition,” said Baez, who struck out in his first three at-bats and finished at 2-for-5. “Playing tight games like this will make us make adjustments better and be more in the game.”

With Kyle Schwarber more than 1,000 miles away in Des Moines and hitting the reset button at Triple-A Iowa, Willson Contreras became the leadoff hitter of the day and launched Gio Gonzalez’s fifth pitch of the game into the left-field seats.

The young Cubs manufactured their next run in the eighth inning when Baez stole third base and scored on Albert Almora Jr.’s perfectly placed bunt into the no man’s land between the pitcher’s mound and the first-base line. The bullpen is Washington’s Achilles’ heel and showed with a three-run meltdown in the ninth inning.

Eddie Butler – who began the season in the Iowa rotation – neutralized a powerful Washington lineup while getting just one strikeout in five innings. Maddon pushed a lot of bullpen buttons, not going to Wade Davis for a four-out save and then summoning the All-Star closer when Hector Rondon couldn’t work with a five-run cushion.

In a dramatic finish, Davis survived giving up three hits, a walk and a wild pitch, striking out Ryan Zimmerman with a curveball to end a game that lasted 3 hours and 54 minutes.

“To play so well and not win that game would have really been awful,” Maddon said.

The Cubs needed this with Scherzer and Stephen Strasburg looming the next two nights. But for all of their talent and regular-season dominance – three division titles since 2012 and close to a 100-win pace this year – the Nationals still haven’t won a playoff series in a city where the Senators once won it all in 1924.

This could be an epic matchup in October, bursting with stars and pumping with bad blood. Just listen to Baker during his pregame media briefing, responding to a question about a power hitter like Anthony Rizzo batting leadoff: “I ain’t worried about the Cubs. They can do their thing.”

Or Baker dismissing Maddon’s mind games and the possibility of intentionally walking Harper when Ryan Zimmerman is a Triple Crown contender: “It’s a new time and a new day.”

The last word from Maddon, who keeps insisting the 39-37 Cubs have a hot streak in them and that he digs the youth movement: “If this was a spring training lineup, we might get a call.”