Survival of the fittest: Rizzo, Wood still standing 4 years later

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Anthony Rizzo on the day he debuted for the Cubs in 2012, with members of the Cubs’ front office and Cubs chairman Tom Ricketts (center).

Neither one made the Opening Day roster that year.

But by June 26 they were Cubs teammates – two of the 53 players who would play at least a game for Theo Epstein’s first team in Chicago in 2012.

It was the first 100-loss season for the franchise in 46 years, the first of three seasons of tanking before the buildup under the new regime.

“It’s not something we just sit around and talk about, but we’ve mentioned it from time to time,” Cubs left-hander Travis Wood said of conversations with teammate Anthony Rizzo. “Just about how it’s been a long, hard-fought battle, and we’re finally happy to see the outcome and where we’re at now.”

They are the Cubs’ ultimate survivalists.

By making it this far together – on the brink of a postseason run many predict will lead to the World Series – Wood and Rizzo are the only two left standing from Year 1 of a top-to-bottom organizational overhaul that has churned hundreds of players through its big-league roster in that span.

They also are the only two players in history to play for a 100-loss Cubs team and a 100-win Cubs team.

“Just to see what Theo and Jed [Hoyer] have done over the last five years is pretty impressive,” said Wood, who goes into the playoffs in a linchpin relief role, “with the guys that they ran in and out of here, and the pieces that ended up sticking, and then going out and getting some key pieces that we needed. …”

Neither saw 200 wins over the past two seasons coming so quickly when they were acquired in trades during Epstein’s first three months in charge.

“I came I just trying to establish myself in the big leagues,” said Rizzo, who since being acquired from San Diego in a trade for Andrew Cashner that January has become a three-time All-Star and a 2016 MVP candidate.

“I was just happy to get over here with a fresh start and fortunate to stay,” said Wood, who was acquired from the Reds for Sean Marshall two weeks before the Rizzo trade – and who became an All-Star starter in 2013.

<em>Travis Wood in 2012</em>

Travis Wood in 2012

Since those trades, the two have been teammates over five seasons with more players than they can remember – from Alfonso Soriano and Ryan Dempster to Joe Mather, Mike Olt, Jason Berken, Manny Corpas, Cody Ransom, Ian Stewart, Lendy Castillo, Donnie Murphy, Alex Burnett, Chris Valaika and, briefly, Alex Hinshaw.

Rizzo in particular has talked more than once about appreciating how far he and the Cubs have gone since enduring that 101-loss season in 2012.

“It wasn’t fun,” said Rizzo, who went through three consecutive last-place finishes. “At the same time, you’ve still got to go out and play every day. But in ’14 we started kind of an uphill trend. And now we’re here.”

As the Cubs finished strong in 2014, Rizzo publicly predicted a division championship in 2015 that seemed ridiculous at the time (three months before Jon Lester was signed).

And he figures that prediction came true after the third-place Cubs knocked off second-place Pittsburgh and then first-place St. Louis in the playoffs.

This time around, he offers no predictions heading into what might be the Cubs’ most anticipated postseason in generations.

But there might not be another player in the clubhouse who appreciates more how far the Cubs have gone in five years. Except for maybe one.

“Maybe the most satisfying part about it is that a lot of people that doubted what was going on are now either jumping on the bandwagon or saying that they believed in the plan the whole time,” he said. “I remember a lot of times people doubting what was going on here, the big picture.

“That’s the best part, obviously other than the winning. I feel like we gutted it out, and [the front office] did what they needed to do, and now we have a pretty good chance,” he said. “It’s not guaranteed, but the formula’s there to be good for a while.”

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