How Cubs’ lineup has thrived without Bryzzo producing in the middle of the order
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The Bryzzo Souvenir Company is closed for remodeling until further notice.
If that much hadn’t become clear by the time Javy Baez and Willson Contreras became the Cubs’ All-Star starters this year, just take a look at a Cubs lineup once built around Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo as its inseparable middle.
On Tuesday against the Diamondbacks, Rizzo was back in the leadoff spot for the 10th consecutive game, and manager Joe Maddon talked about leaving him there long-term.
Bryant? The 2016 MVP who spent more than two weeks on the disabled list recently with an injured left shoulder was sidelined by soreness in the shoulder again Tuesday — and likely will be Wednesday — as he and the Cubs try to nurse the shoulder through the rest of the season.
The Cubs’ rotation justifiably has received much of the attention lately for its inability to take pressure off the bullpen — Kyle Hendricks again lasting just five innings against the Diamondbacks on Tuesday.
But the transformation and length of the Cubs’ lineup this season could be just as significant a development, and possibly provide a boost for a team with designs on at least a fourth consecutive trip to the National League Championship Series — Tuesday’s production against Clay Buchholz (one run in 6 2/3 innings) notwithstanding.
Baez, hitting cleanup with Rizzo elevated, led the league in RBI entering the day. Albert Almora Jr., batting second Tuesday, was second in the league in hitting. No. 3 hitter Jason Heyward, who homered, has been one of the team’s best hitters since working on his swing while on the DL in May. And Kyle Schwarber might be their most consistent hitter all season.
It has added up to enough to compensate all season for struggles and injuries to the two big men who have led the Cubs’ offensive charge over the last three playoff seasons.
The Cubs lead the NL in hitting, on-base percentage and scoring.
And now that depth in production may be more important than ever, between Rizzo’s new role and Bryant’s ailing shoulder.
“Among all the group, I think Javy makes it possible, and then (b) would be Jason makes it possible — and, of course, Schwarber,” said Maddon, explaining why he can entertain the idea of Rizzo staying in the leadoff spot long-term. “But Javy’s the linchpin to even being able to think like that.
“What I’ve done in the past with Rizzo was just very temporary, to get us going and get him out of there, because he needed to be out of there,” added Maddon, who put catcher Victor Caratini in the ninth spot of the order to “feed” Rizzo. “Right now he doesn’t have to be out of there.
“I’m not committed to it totally yet, but I kind of like what I’m seeing.”
Meanwhile, Bryant’s injury isn’t going away anytime soon. He aggravated it on a swing Monday night, Maddon said.
“He played through it but didn’t feel great afterward, and he’s not feeling that great yet [Tuesday],” Maddon said. “So let’s not mess with this right now.”
Bryant, who first hurt the shoulder on a head-first slide in May, said in June that he played through discomfort for about a month before the pain worsened, leading to the DL move June 23.
Since returning July 11, he’s 10-for-40 with two homers, five walks and nine strikeouts. He’s hitless in his last five plate appearances.
“He’s trying to make some adjustments,” Maddon said. “I like what he was actually doing [Monday]; the ball started going the other way, which he needs to do.”
Maddon said he didn’t know if surgery would be an option after the season.
“Right now it’s just trying to manage it and get him through the season,” Maddon said. “I don’t know what the offseason would hold.”