By Bruce Levine–
CHICAGO (CBS) — Cubs first baseman Anthony Rizzo has been in charge of the mirth and merriment department in the past five games, over which he has moved to the top of the order and jokingly declared himself the greatest lead-off hitter in big league history.
“I am having fun with it,” Rizzo said. “Once the game starts going, it is just another spot in the lineup. It will be a little different here at home. You know as long as we have been hitting the ball a little better, I don’t know if it has to do with me leading off or not. We just have to play good baseball.”
Rizzo has been on a tear since manager Joe Maddon moved him from cleanup to the top of the order after others had struggled at lead-off and infielder/outfielder Ben Zobrist was placed on the disabled list with a wrist injury. He’s 9-of-22 with three homers, eight RBIs and six runs while also walking twice. He homered to lead off in back-to-back games against the Mets last week, and the Cubs are 3-2 in that stretch.
At 34-34, the Cubs have struggled to play consistent baseball this season. These inconsistencies have come one year after they coasted through a 103-win regular season, having fun every step of the way en route to a championship. This year’s play on the field has been erratic and nothing to laugh about, and Maddon has taken notice.
“The guys have been quieter,” Maddon said Monday before the Cubs hosted the Padres in the opener of a three-game series at Wrigley Field. “They are not as easily joking with one another as they normally are. That is just the nature of what we do. That is a part of this industry and part of this game. Regardless of how much you attempt to preach against it, to demonstrate the opposite of that, it has been ingrained in players so long, it’s hard for them not to be that way.
“So obviously it’s really good what Riz has been doing and get that sincere, positive vibe back with the group. That is not what you want to try and fabricate or create. It is such a crazy world we live in and how we are impacted win versus a loss.”
So how long could Rizzo serve as the lead-off man? Even he’s not sure.
“I just play first base for the Chicago Cubs,” he said with a laugh. “I don’t write those lineup cards. I don’t have any problem with it, especially if we win. Doesn’t matter where I hit in the lineup or play on the field or on the bench, as long as we win.”
Rizzo’s teammates have gotten a kick out of his new role.
“He called himself the greatest lead-off man of all time,” Zobrist said with a laugh. “I guess that would be true if you extended his numbers over several years. He has done a great job the first few days. We might as well keep him there while he is hot. When he hits it hard like he has been, it goes a long way. It has been pretty cool to watch.”
Bruce Levine covers the Cubs and White Sox for 670 The Score and CBSChicago.com. Follow him on Twitter @MLBBruceLevine.