When the Chicago Cubs made their run to the World Series championship in 2016, much was made about leadoff man Dexter Fowler being the key cog in the lineup. Joe Maddon famously termed him as “you go, we go.”
Since Fowler departed for a bigger payday with rival St. Louis in winter 2016, inconsistency in the lineup has been a common theme for the last season and change. And one factor has emerged to the forefront: Anthony Rizzo is the player in the lineup that can make the Cubs go.
Before we get deeper, know that this isn’t an argument to make him a permanent solution at the leadoff spot (even though he might technically be the greatest of all time). The key to a lineup doesn’t always have to come from the top of the order, and with his ability to drive in runs, he’s best suited in the heart of the order.
No matter where he hits, it’s becoming more evident that the Cubs struggle when Rizzo struggles. And when Rizzo gets hot, so do the Cubs.
For instance, take his 2017 campaign. Many pegged Rizzo as an MVP candidate, mostly due to his torrid second half. After the All-Star break, he boasted a .290/.400/.506 slash line with 12 home runs, 53 RBI and a .906 OPS in 305 plate appearances.
Unsurprisingly, the Cubs went 46-24 during that stretch. With Rizzo leading the charge, the lineup also found its rhythm at the plate, helping propel them to a second straight NL Central title.
Maddon’s crew needed a second-half surge to win the division title. One of the biggest reasons they were up the track was due to a rough May, which is when Rizzo had his worst month statistically. In May 2017, the Cubs went 12-15 and Rizzo managed just a .194/.347/.398 slash line and a .745 OPS in 121 plate appearances.
The postseason told a similar story too. After a hot start in the first three games of last year’s playoffs, Rizzo trailed off with .040/.143/.040 slash line and a .183 OPS in the last seven games between the NL Division and Championship Series.
If that doesn’t scream “you go, we go,” then what else does?
Maybe teams have finally learned to respect Rizzo. In the first two months of the season, we’ve seen a similar trend with him. The Cubs have been up and down, and Rizzo has been off to a rough start. In 143 plate appearances, Rizzo has a .195/.301/.358 slash line with 6 home runs, 23 RBI, and a .658 OPS.
Rizzo told reporters after driving in five runs May 9 against the Miami Marlins that he thought the slump was coming to an end. But in the last six games since that outing, he’s had a slash line of .111/.385/.276 with just 1 home run, 4 RBI, and a .662 OPS.
Make no mistake, all the Cubs’ inconsistencies aren’t on Rizzo. Everyone else in the lineup, aside from Kris Bryant, has to pull their weight consistently to get back on a contending track this year. In just about two months of work, we’ve seen Addison Russell and Willson Contreras come out funks for a day or two just to slip back into them.
But at the end of the day, Rizzo is going to have to be the straw that stirs the drink.