Whether the Cubs dodge the heat of Max Scherzer in the first round of the playoffs, their road to another World Series championship is paved with some of the most formidable, dominant aces in the game.
“I remember David Ortiz told me once he liked facing aces because they’re going to actually pitch to him,” said Anthony Rizzo, the Cubs’ three-time All-Star first baseman.
“The plate’s only so big, to where if you’re swinging, the big dogs throw it more in that area more than guys who are finesse,” he said.
Rizzo, the lefty slugger the Cubs’ lineup is built around, has had success in his career against four of the best who could stand in the Cubs’ way: Scherzer, the Dodgers’ Clayton Kershaw, the Red Sox’ Chris Sale and the Indians’ Corey Kluber.
But he won’t go so far as to say he feels about those guys as Ortiz did.
“Not yet,” he said. “I wish I did feel that way. He said that was way later in his career.” Rizzo is a combined 16-for-46 (.348) with four homers, two walks and eight runs batted in against those four in his career, including five postseason games against Kershaw and Kluber.
His thoughts on what makes them so tough:
“He throws all his pitches for strikes. You’re 0-2 in two pitches. And he has all three pitches — four pitches — that he can throw for strikes. And he’s got a quirky kind of delivery that’s hard to time. All of his stuff is very above average.
“And it’s not like he’s nit-picking. He’s coming right at you. So swing early; if you don’t get to him he’s in the eighth inning with 80 pitches. That’s tough to deal with.
“I tend to hit Kershaw well. I don’t know why. I see the ball really well from him. But looking at other guys, [the delivery] is something you’ve got to get used to. He kind of herks and jerks a little bit. It’s just different.”
“He’s got a big spin rate, too. And he’s got all three pitches [fastball, slider, changeup] that he throws for quality strikes. He’s attacking you, too — another guy where you’re 0-2.
“You can attack him and be aggressive, but that’s what they want. They don’t care if you’re aggressive, because the next thing you know you’re going to be in the eighth again with 90 pitches.”
“You know what you’re going to get. They’re not going to change their game plan to their scouting report. They’re going to pitch to their strengths, and that’s why they are who they are.”
“He’s coming from a weird angle, weird arm angle. There’s a lot of motion in his delivery. But he throws strikes. So that’s what you have to realize.
“All these guys, the big thing is they are who they are because they’re not scared, and they pitch like, ‘Here it comes.’ They’re not trying to strike everyone out. Their stuff’s just that good where it’s the quality of them that leads to them striking everyone out.”
“All these guys will pitch to a report, but he’s more of a report-style pitcher. He’s another guy who’s got the stuff, but he’ll pitch to more of a pitching report.
“I just faced him in the World Series, which was a blur.
“Out of the four, he does have the most traditional delivery. But they all repeat their delivery, and they are who they are because of their mentality.”
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