Anthony Rizzo ‘heart and soul’ of otherwise struggling Cubs lineup

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WASHINGTON – Maybe with a different center fielder, it would have been the start of something. Maybe in a different part of the park it would have been a big run.

But when Denard Span leaped and crashed against the center field wall to rob the Cubs’ Anthony Rizzo of an extra-base hit in Friday night’s eighth inning, it was just one more indication that Rizzo can’t do it all.

No matter how much it looked for six innings like he might just do that during the Cubs’ 7-5 loss to the Nationals.

“That left-center is kind of weird. Sometimes it flies out, sometimes it doesn’t,” said Rizzo, who hit his 10th and 11th homers earlier in the game to keep the Cubs close and extend his hitting streak to a career-high-tying 10 games. “It was a good catch. You tip your hat to him. I’m glad he didn’t bring it fully back. It was just at the top of the wall.”

So it only cost a double instead of an instant run.

“It is what it is,” he said.

Rizzo has been one of the few bright spots in a Cubs lineup that has struggled lately, losing right-fielder Jorge Soler this week to an ankle injury and causing manager Joe Maddon to shuffle the deck to find answers.

Even after a rough night of pitching for Maddon’s starter and a couple of bullpen guys, he pointed at the lineup that beyond Rizzo and a solo homer from Miguel Montero got little else.

“We’ve been more offensively challenged than anything, and that’s where we’ve got to get rolling a little bit,” Maddon said after his team’s seventh loss in 11 games. “We’ve got to get some guys back on track.”

None of those guys is named Rizzo.

If anything, the 2014 All-Star has been the one consistent hitter in the lineup all season, putting up better numbers than last year and allowing Maddon to build around him and give Kris Bryant a tandem partner to help his jump into the big leagues find a soft landing.

“He’s a stud,” catcher David Ross said of Rizzo. “He’s the heart and soul of this team.”

“I know there’s a lot of worthy first baseman All-Star candidates, but he’s got to be at the top of the list,” maddon said. “I know there’s other guys doing really well, but it’s hard to imagine doing better than he’s doing right now. He’s been outstanding.

“It’s really been incredible to watch. I’ve not really seen that level of offensive performance for that length of time. I’m talking the at-bats, the hits, the homers, the two-strike approach. His OPS is ridiculous right now.

“I know there are other guys out there, but personally, I have not seen anything quite that good.”

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