Rizzo, Russell struggling at plate, but Cubs still winning

How can something bad be good?

Here’s how: The Cubs are winning with two of their biggest stars — Anthony Rizzo and Addison Russell — hitting as badly as Class AAA players.

Check that. Decent players in the high minors would have lucked into more than two singles in 39 at-bats, which is what those two men have combined for this postseason.

Each time Rizzo and Russell came to the plate in the Cubs’ 8-4 victory Saturday against the Dodgers in Game 1 of the National League Championship Series at Wrigley Field, their postseason failings became more profound.

Cubs first baseman Anthony Rizzo reacts after striking out in the fifth inning Saturday. He is 1-for-20 in the playoffs.  |  Getty Images

Cubs first baseman Anthony Rizzo reacts after striking out in the fifth inning Saturday. He is 1-for-20 in the playoffs. | Getty Images

On the big scoreboard in left field, it read: ‘‘Anthony Rizzo
AVG. .067, AB 15, HR 0, RBI 0.’’

It read the same the next time up, except the average was .063 and the at-bats were 16.

Same for Russell.

By the end of the night, Rizzo was hitting .050 (1-for-20) and Russell .053 (1-for-19) in the playoffs. The idea of hitting ’em where they ain’t had left the building.

The ‘‘Mendoza Line’’ for ineptitude is .200. It was named for shortstop Mario Mendoza back in the late 1970s because the anemic-hitting shortstop handled a bat as though it were a broken toothpick, except not quite as dangerous.

Think of it: Rizzo, an MVP candidate who batted .292 with 32 home runs, 43 doubles and 109 RBI during the regular season, and Russell, who had 21 homers and 95 RBI, would have to get four consecutive hits to reach the Mendoza Line.

Let’s make it clear that their defense hasn’t been affected by their lack of offense. Russell has been spectacular at shortstop. And first baseman Rizzo made a great stab of hard grounder by Yasiel Puig in the sixth inning, then stabbed a line drive to start a game-ending double play.

But the fellows’ brains have to be addled. Slumps, pressing, the paralysis of analysis — you name it, they’ve got it.

‘‘Anytime you struggle, it’s going to be tough,’’ Cubs starter Jon Lester said, speaking of Rizzo. ‘‘So I think that says a lot about our team. One of our big horses isn’t swinging the bat well, and we’ve got guys ahead of him and below him that are picking him up.’’

You might have been wondering about the ‘‘good’’ part of Rizzo’s and Russell’s horrendous at-bats. It’s just what Lester said: If the Cubs can overcome such a handicap and still win, it’s amazing.

Third baseman Kris Bryant is crushing the ball. Second baseman Javy Baez is so hot he needs to be sprayed with flame retardant. And his fielding is magical.

And if you thought Miguel Montero, the catcher with the jockey’s voice, was going to crank a historic pinch-hit grand slam in the eighth inning and blow the game apart, head directly to Las Vegas and begin your new life as a casino god.

‘‘Montero took a good swing,’’ Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said in resignation. ‘‘That’s baseball.’’

Boy, isn’t it?

Cubs general manager Jed Hoyer told me he thinks even a 15- or 20-game series wouldn’t accurately show who’s better
than whom.

‘‘That’s why we need 162 games,’’ he said. ‘‘But the other sports play seven-game series, so I guess it’s OK for us.’’

Rizzo and Russell are struggling badly at the plate.

The good news? If they bust out, lock the doors and hide the children because the World Series is guaranteed.

Follow me on Twitter @ricktelander.

Email: rtelander@suntimes.com

Previously from Sports

He's back: Cubs add Schwarber to World Series roster | Chicago Sun-Times
Show time: Jay Cutler enters most critical stretch of his career | Chicago Sun-Times
Kid at the heart of Cubs order: Young veteran Rizzo sets tone | Chicago Sun-Times
Penalty-kill continues to be the Blackhawks' killer weakness | Chicago Sun-Times