Cubs keeping Rizzo in holding pattern

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Cubs keeping Rizzo in holding pattern

SAN FRANCISCO Perhaps its just the backup quarterback syndrome, but Anthony Rizzo may never again be as popular as he is now.

Of course, Rizzos Q rating would soar if hes everything Cubs executives think he can be a foundation piece for a team thats playing annually in October.

But the 22-year-old first baseman is a blank canvas for Cubs fans and the Chicago media. Its hard to ignore the firestorm his sore right wrist created on Twitter.

Jason McLeod, the head of scouting and player development, described Rizzo as being in the finishing stages at Triple-A Iowa. His arrival is still weeks away, perhaps later this month.

That will mean uprooting Bryan LaHair, who entered Friday leading all National League first basemen in homers (10), and ranking second behind Joey Votto in OPS (.979).

And Alfonso Soriano, who has seven homers in his last 14 games, is anchored in left field, with almost 50 million left on his contract.

The day Rizzo comes here, hes going to play every day, manager Dale Sveum said. So whatever we do, who really knows? We keep beating (that) dead horse every day.

But theres nothing you can do about moving people around until Rizzo gets here. We dont know when thats going to happen. We all know how well hes doing.

The Cubs named Rizzo their minor league player of the month after he hit .326 (31-for-95) with 10 home runs and 23 RBI in 26 games in May.

LaHair has said that he would welcome another big left-handed bat in the middle of the lineup, and insisted that it wouldnt take long to get used to playing in the outfield again.

Those are bridges we have to cross, obviously, when it happens, Sveum said. I think you have to get some preparation out there before you just go out to left field. (But) Sorianos been one of our best hitters, so theres not a whole lot we can do if Rizzo comes here.

Sooner or later, the Cubs are going to have to make room for Rizzo, and see if he can live up to the hype.

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Theories on why Cubs haven’t played up to their defensive potential yet

“That’s what we’re supposed to look like,” Joe Maddon said Monday night after a 6-4 loss where the San Francisco Giants scored the first six runs and Wrigley Field got loudest for the David Ross “Dancing with the Stars” look-in on the big video board, at least until a late flurry from the Cubs.

But for a manager always looking for the silver linings, Maddon could replay Addison Russell’s diving stop to his right and strong throw from deep in the hole at shortstop to take a hit away from Christian Arroyo. Or Albert Almora’s spectacular flying catch near the warning track in center field. Or Anthony Rizzo stealing another hit from Brandon Belt with a diving backhanded play near the first-base line.

The highlight reel became a reminder of how the Cubs won 103 games and the World Series last year – and made you wonder why the 2017 team hasn’t played the same consistently excellent defense with largely the same group of personnel.

“Concentration?” Jason Heyward said, quickly dismissing the theory a defensive decline could boil down to focus or effort. “No shot. No shot. It is what it is when it comes to people asking questions about last year having effects, this and that. But this is a new season.

“The standard is still high. What’s our excuse? We played later than anybody? That may buy you some time, but then what?

“The goals stay the same. We just got to find new ways to do it when you have a different team.”

FiveThirtyEight.com, Nate Silver’s statistical website, framed the question this way after the Cubs allowed the lowest batting average on balls in play ever last season, an analysis that goes all the way back to 1871: “Have the Cubs Forgotten How to Field?”

Even if the Cubs don’t set records and make history, they should still be better than 23rd in the majors in defensive efficiency, with 37 errors through 43 games. The Cubs have already allowed 28 unearned runs after giving up 45 all last season.

“We just got to stay on it and keep focusing and not let the miscues go to our head,” Ben Zobrist said. “We just have to keep working hard and staying focused in the field. A lot of that’s the rhythm of the game. I blame a lot of that on the early parts of the season and the weather and a lot of difficult things that we’ve been going through.

“If we’re not hitting the ball well, too, we’re a young team still, and you can carry that into the field. You don’t want to let that happen, but it’s part of the game. You got to learn to move beyond miscues and just focus on the next play.”

Heyward, a four-time Gold Glove winner, missed two weeks with a sprained right finger and has already started nine times in center field (after doing that 21 times all last season). Zobrist has morphed back into a super-utility guy, starting 16 games at second base and 15 in two different outfield spots.

[MORE CUBS: Have the Cubs found their new leadoff hitter in Ben Zobrist?]

Maddon has tried to drill the idea of making the routine play into Javier Baez’s head, so that the uber-talented second baseman can allow his natural athleticism and instincts to take over during those dazzling moments.

The Cubs are basically hoping Kyle Schwarber keeps the ball in front of him in left and setting the bar at: Don’t crash into your center fielder. Like Schwarber and Almora, catcher Willson Contreras hasn’t played a full season in The Show yet, and the Cubs are now hoping Ian Happ can become a Zobrist-type defender all over the field.

“I’m seeing our guys playing in a lot of different places,” Heyward said. “It’s not just been penciling in every day who’s going to center field or right field or left field. We did shake things up some last year, but we did it kind of later in the season. We had guys settle in, playing every day. This year, I feel like we’re having guys in different spots.

“It’s May whatever, (but) it seems like we haven’t really had a chance to settle in yet. Not that we’re procrastinating by any means, but it’s just been a lot of moving pieces.”

The Giants won World Series titles in 2010, 2012 and 2014 with a formula that incorporated lights-out pitching, airtight defense and just enough clutch pitching. The Cubs are now a 22-21 team trying to figure it out again.

“Defense comes and goes, just like pitching,” said Kris Bryant, the reigning National League MVP, in part, because of his defensive versatility. “I feel like if you look at last year, it’s kind of hard to compare, just because it was so good. We spoiled everybody last year. Now we’re a complete letdown this year.”

Bryant paused and said: “Just kidding. Different years, things regress, things progress, and that’s just how it goes sometimes.”