Cubs

Do Cubs — with talent everywhere — need ‘Bryzzo’ to lead them in second half?

WASHINGTON — Let’s say the right side of the Cubs’ infield swapped first-half offensive numbers. That would give first baseman Anthony Rizzo a .292 average, 19 home runs and a league-leading 72 RBI at the All-Star break. Second baseman Javy Baez would be at .246, 12 and 61 — not bad, but not the stuff of an MVP candidate.

Would anyone be the slightest bit worried?

No, of course not. Instead, it’s Rizzo, the team leader and top run producer of this Cubs era, who’s at something of a crossroads after what, for him, was a subpar first half. It seems like a bigger deal.

Kris Bryant, who’s supposed to be the Cubs’ best player, had a forgettable first half, too. Shoulder pain may have been the main culprit. Regardless, his signature home run ball has been largely missed.

Are Rizzo and Bryant still the Cubs' clear top pair?

Isn’t it a wonder, then, that the Cubs are 55-38 and owners of the best record in the National League?

And isn’t it tantalizing to think of how good the Cubs could be if Rizzo and Bryant lead the way in the second half?

Those questions somewhat miss the point, though. The Cubs have a lot of players who are capable of carrying the team. A few of them — Baez, catcher Willson Contreras and Home Run Derby competitor Kyle Schwarber — are here in the nation’s capital. No longer is it a given that the pecking order of Cubs position players begins with “Bryzzo” before the other guys can be slotted in.

When it comes to pure playing ability, All-Star pitcher Jon Lester doesn’t see much of a distinction between Bryant and Rizzo, and Baez and Contreras.

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“I think we have a lot of talent in a lot of different areas,” Lester said. “Obviously, you’re going to have the guys that fans are drawn to naturally that are going to be kind of the faces of the team. But I would put [Baez and Contreras] up there with [Bryant and Rizzo] now.”

Contreras tried to nip that kind of talk in the bud.

“Rizzo and KB, they are different,” Contreras said. “They are the faces of the team. We have to admit that.

“They are the faces of the team, but they don’t think that way. They think about winning. Everything with those guys is about the ‘W.’ ”

There is no doubt, though, that Baez’s emergence, Contreras’ progression, Schwarber’s comeback from a rough 2017 and improvements by Addison Russell, Jason Heyward and Albert Almora Jr. have kept the pressure off Rizzo and Bryant and sent a strong message about how well distributed the talent is throughout the roster. Baez believes the Cubs’ ceiling is significantly higher than it was in the championship season of 2016.

“Everybody keeps getting better through the years,” he said. “We’ve got great athletes. We’ve got a lot of first-rounders. I’m really excited for what’s going on. I think we can go far in the second half.”

Bryant and Rizzo are more than welcome to come along for the ride. They can even grab the wheel if they’re up to it.