MINNEAPOLIS -- Baseball in Chicago may still be in recovery mode after a disastrous 2013 season but both teams boast top-flight first baseman.
That fact is indisputable as the Cubs’ Anthony Rizzo and White Sox slugger Jose Abreu are set to make their first All-Star Game appearances on Tuesday night at Target Field.
Though both are young and relative newcomers to baseball’s biggest stage, it hasn’t kept their peers from taking notice. Whether its Rizzo earning his way into the exhibition through the National League Final Vote contest or Abreu and his baseball-high 29 homers, the pair has a genuine buzz about it among their fellow All-Stars in the Twin Cities.
“They’re both really good,” said two-time NL Cy Young winner and four-time All-Star Clayton Kershaw. “I haven’t faced Rizzo yet this year, but he’s really starting to figure it out. I haven’t got to see him play enough, but facing Abreu that one time, he’s really strong. He can mishit balls and have them go over the fence. It’s a big separator for a lot of guys. Not a lot of guys can do that.”
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Not many cities feature as fearsome -- and young -- a duo at first as Rizzo and Abreu. Rizzo, who is signed through at least 2019, doesn’t turn 25 until next month. Abreu, 27, also has five more seasons on a $68-million contract signed in November.
San Diego Padres All-Star Tyson Ross has a unique perspective on metro areas featuring two teams having grown up in the Bay Area at a time when Mark McGwire and Will Clark were all the rage for the Oakland A’s and San Francisco Giants, respectively.
Ross, who later played for the A’s, said the Abreu-Rizzo situation is unique and can help to reignite the crosstown rivalry between the Cubs and White Sox.
“They’re both young talented sluggers in a great city like Chicago,” Ross said. “I could see how that’s a pretty big deal with the North Side/South Side rivalry and you each have your guy, they’re each an All-Star.
“That’s a cool thing.”
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It might not have happened had it not been for the 8.8 million votes Rizzo garnered last week via Internet votes and text messages.
Rizzo, who has a .275/.381/.499 slash line with 20 homers and 49 RBIs in 407 plate appearances, faces strong competition among NL first baseman. Atlanta’s Freddie Freeman and Arizona’s Paul Goldschmidt are also on the NL roster and Cincinnati’s Joey Votto and Los Angeles’ Adrian Gonzalez have both been All-Stars in the past.
Still, Abreu’s teammate Chris Sale thinks Rizzo’s inclusion is justified.
“He’s a big power guy who hits for a pretty good average too,” Sale said. “He’s a good defensive first baseman. He’s a big guy too. You could take some random guy off the street and put him in the box and if he’s big he’s going to be somewhat intimidating. Then you put the fact that (Rizzo) can really hit and can hit it really far just kind of adds to that.”
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Abreu didn’t need as much help as he was selected onto the AL roster via player vote. Though he has only 82 games under his belt, Abreu has already achieved a reputation as one of the top hitters in the game. On Monday, Detroit’s Miguel Cabrera said Abreu, who has a .292/.342/.630 with 50 extra-base hits and 73 RBIs in 351 plate appearances this season, is off to an “amazing” start. Rizzo has only seen his crosstown counterpart in four games but said the talent is easily recognizable.
“He knows what he’s doing and he knows how to hit,” Rizzo said. “He makes adjustments in game that are very noticeable. It’s unbelievable what he’s done to come over from Cuba and adapt so quick. He’s still adapting. He deserves a lot of credit.”
Sale’s admiration for his fellow White Sox All-Star teammate is evident. He has used so many superlatives to describe Abreu’s play that he has run out. But Sale said he didn’t need to after hearing Cabrera’s comments -- “There’s not much more gratifying than that,” Sale said.
Given his respect for Rizzo, Sale likes that both teams feature All-Stars. After all, these are teams that both lost 90-plus games in 2013 and are sitting in last place and fourth place in their divisions.
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“It’s awesome just for sports in Chicago in general,” Sale said. “You’re always looking for big name guys and all of a sudden they’re in the same city at the same time playing for different teams. It creates a good buzz.”
One that lives up to the hype said San Francisco Giants pitcher Madison Bumgarner.
The left-hander has faced Rizzo and calls him a “good hitter all around.”
He also has heard many of the stories Abreu and after seeing him play against the Giants for two games last month said he has developed into one of the best hitters in baseball. That leads Bumgarner to believe there are a lot of good times ahead for Chicago baseball.
“(Abreu) has got that reputation and it’s pretty special to say that about somebody,” Bumgarner said. “Same thing with (Rizzo), there’s no one way to get him out. Both of them have a lot of talent.
“It’s probably going to be fun to watch in the next few years I would imagine.”