Tuesday night after Anthony Rizzo made the catch of the season from the top of the short wall near the tarp in foul territory, the full-house crowd at Wrigley Field started chanting “M-V-P!” “M-V-P!” “M-V-P!”
Less than 48 hours, in five trips to the plate Thursday, Cubs teammate Kris Bryant made his own MVP noise – delivering his second five-hit game of the season, including two home runs and five RBIs to gift wrap a 15th win of the season for Jake Arrieta against the Milwaukee Brewers.
“Well, we kind of expect him to perform at that level,” said Arrieta after surviving 5 2/3 innings and a career-high seven walks for the 9-6 win that gave the Cubs a four-game sweep of the Brewers. “He spoils us, he does it so often.”
And so it begins, as the Cubs head to Colorado to start a nine-game trip Friday that could be as much a showcase of the Cubs’ chase for personal postseason hardware as a chance to start the magic-number conversation on their other postseason chase.
Bryant, 24, became one of the five youngest Cubs to reach 30 homers in a season Thursday, tying the Rockies’ Nolan Arenado for the league lead just ahead of their showdown in the mountains.
Kyle Hendricks starts Friday in his continuing assault on the league ERA title – and his outsider candidacy for a Cy Young Award.
Arrieta (15-4), who tied Stephen Strasburg for most wins in the National League, remains in play for a second straight Cy Young as he heads into his next start, next week in San Diego.
But the main event under the Cubs’ traveling big top with 42 games left is the building MVP drama between All-Star buddies Bryant and Rizzo – with Washington’s Daniel Murphy playing Cub foil again, this time from afar.
“Absolutely,” manager Joe Maddon said, “and this next six weeks, it’s going to really separate them and put them definitely in that conversation.”
“We’ve obviously put ourselves in a good position to have that chatter,” said Rizzo, who doubled twice Thursday, boosting his OPS to .961 and his RBI total to 86 along the way. “But we’ve still got to go out and play every day and do what we do.”
For Bryant, his big day Thursday wasn’t even his biggest of the season. In June he became the first player in history to hit three homers and two doubles in a game, driving in six that night in Cincinnati.
“I don’t feel like this too often, but today was one of those days where I just was really locked in,” said Bryant, who could add MVP to the college player of the year, Baseball America Minor League Player of the Year and NL Rookie of the Year awards he’s won in successive seasons the last three years.
Either way, these guys have little chance of falling into the trap of past dual-threat MVP-candidate teammates.
In 1996, a 20-year-old Alex Rodriguez told so many people so many times in September that Mariners teammate Ken Griffey Jr. was the MVP of their team that it likely cost him the award that year in what turned out to be one of the closest MVP votes. Both Seattle writers had Griffey ahead of Rodriguez on their ballots.
The last time teammates finished 1-2, in 2000, Giants manager Dusty Baker influenced the vote by telling writers he considered Jeff Kent his MVP over Barry Bonds – and Kent won.
Maddon said he won’t fall for that one – casting his vote Thursday the same way he did in a conversation with the Sun-Times more than two weeks ago: “Bryzzo.”
Like Rodriguez and Griffey in ’96, Bryant, the right-hander, bats ahead of the lefty-slugging Rizzo in the 2-3 spots — or as the Cubs duo prefers to think of it, like Miguel Cabrera batting ahead of Prince Fielder when Cabrera won the Triple Crown in 2012.
“He always tells me, `I’m your Prince,’ “ Bryant said.
Not exactly fighting words in this would-be rivalry.
“They’re really good friends,” Maddon said.
“He’s won an award the last 15 years of his life, so it would probably just come natural,” Rizzo said of Bryant and the MVP. “If it was me, I’d probably have it in my locker and sleep with it.
“But it’s a long ways away. There’s a lot of baseball left to be played.”