Cubs need power and Rizzo has it
(MCT) — As the 29th anniversary of the Lee Elia rant approaches, the Cubs find themselves, as Elia might say, “mired in a little difficulty.”
They have started the new era at 6-13, ranking near the bottom of the National League in pitching, fielding, home runs, on-base percentage and slugging percentage.
With all the problems they have had scoring runs, protecting leads and winning games, you would think manager Dale Sveum would go “Elia” at some point.
But Sveum hasn’t so much as raised an eyebrow in his first 19 games in Chicago, keeping his head while Cubs fans lose theirs. He leaves the dugout only when he needs to, doesn’t spar with the media and hasn’t come close to an ESPN-worthy moment with an umpire, whether it’s over a blown call or a rain delay.
Does Sveum even have it in him to blow up?
“He has it in him,” first baseman Bryan LaHair said. “I just don’t think he really has had a huge reason to do it yet. He’s not one of those managers who is going to abuse that part of his managing style. If there’s a situation where he feels he needs to go out, he’ll go out there. He hasn’t had too many chances to blow up at anybody. He has our backs. We know that.”
LaHair’s point is Sveum is going to be himself. He said the players have seen Sveum ticked off, and that he lets them know when they have made a mistake, “whether it’s me or (Alfonso) Soriano or anybody.”
But three weeks into Sveum’s new job, his team stands at a crossroads, in danger of becoming irrelevant in Chicago.
Sveum and Chairman Tom Ricketts put the onus on the team at the first full workout in spring training, when both said the Cubs were good enough to contend this year. The statements were counter to all of the talk in the offseason of “building a foundation of sustained success,” the mantra of the new regime.
If the Cubs do believe they’re strong enough to contend, there would be little reason not to call up their top prospect, Anthony Rizzo, to help solve their most glaring hole — a lack of power.
As of Thursday, Rizzo was leading the Pacific Coast League with seven home runs at Triple-A Iowa, hitting .373 with a .693 slugging percentage. He looks ready, feels ready and, not surprisingly, is eager to get out of Des Moines.
“I never, ever want to get comfortable in the PCL,” Rizzo told MLB.com. “The travel is the worst. There are nice hotels, nice fields, but there’s no getting comfortable in this league.”
With LaHair as the only power hitter so far, hitting four of the team’s seven home runs, the Cubs desperately need another bat.
Naturally, President Theo Epstein argues Rizzo needs more time to develop, which makes sense until you see rookie Rafael Dolis thrust into a setup role with no Triple-A experience.
May would be as good a time as any to call up Rizzo, especially with an opening the Marlon Byrd trade created. Yet LaHair hasn’t taken any time practicing in the outfield. He knows he will have to move to right field when Rizzo eventually comes up and said Rizzo’s hot start in Iowa was “expected.”
“The kid can really hit,” he said. “There’s no doubt about it.”
LaHair and Rizzo spoke in spring training about the possibility of hitting together in the Cubs lineup. It’s a vision for Cubs fans to cling to, and the shift of Wrigley Field ballhawks from Waveland to Sheffield Avenue, where LaHair has hit one home run this spring, would be a sight to see in itself.
“Two left-handed bats, a lot of power, a lot of quality at-bats, (both) see pitches,” LaHair said. “It’s definitely a good combo. Whenever the right time is.”