Consistent Rizzo leads way for Chicago Cubs

Anthony Rizzo has a face any franchise would love.

To call Rizzo the face of the Chicago Cubs franchise might be a stretch, only because this team has so many "franchise" faces: Rizzo, Kris Bryant, Addison Russell, Javier Baez and on and on.

Rizzo, 27, was not the first player acquired by Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer when they took over Cubs baseball operations in the fall of 2011, but he was the most important at the time.

Five years later, Rizzo has taken his place among both the franchise faces and team leaders.

"Everyone leads in their own different way," he said in the early days of spring training. "You've got quieter guys. You've got guys who are louder. You've got guys who do it by example. I think we're all unique in our own way and everyone gets along and understands people's styles, and it's not just this way or the highway. There are guys who do different things, and we all understand that."

Rizzo last year earned his third straight all-star berth along with his first Gold Glove at first base and his first Silver Slugger award.

He hit 2 home runs in the National League championship series and 1 in the World Series while going 9-for-25 against the Cleveland Indians.

But what stands out most with Rizzo is his eye-popping consistency over the past two seasons. Here is how it was for this left-handed-hitting offensive force:

• In 2015, Rizzo put up a batting line of .278/.387./512 for an OPS of .899 with 31 home runs and 101 RBI. He walked 78 times and struck out 105. His OPS-plus was 146.

• In 2016, he had a line of .292/.385/.544 for an OPS of .928 with 32 home runs and 109 RBI. He had 74 walks and 108 strikeouts. His OPS-plus again was 146.

In wins above replacement (WAR) for first basemen, Rizzo's 5.2 was second in the major leagues to Atlanta's Freddie Freeman (6.1) and ahead of NL stalwarts Joey Votto (5.0) and Paul Goldschmidt (4.8).

Rizzo was the first Cub to step up after the losing 2014 season and say the goal for 2015 was to win the NL Central. The Cubs didn't do that, but they won a wild card game and advanced to the NLCS.

Soon after Rizzo uttered his words about winning the NL Central, the Cubs hired Joe Maddon as manager in late 2014.

"His message since Day 1 when he got here was, 'Push yourself to the limit you don't think you can get to, and you'll see in a few years, we'll be way past that,' " Rizzo said. "That's what we plan on doing."

Rizzo said he was most impressed by how his fellow young players have grown with the organization.

"I think the way we have the talent, it's been talented for a while now," he said. "To bring in the right pieces and to let guys blossom, you don't see that a lot, especially winning teams. You don't see guys coming in and being able to get an opportunity to just go out and play.

"We do a good job, and Joe does a really good job of getting guys in and out and giving guys days off. Everything. Everything from the facilities to the whole staff from the Dominican to Joe. Everyone in between is all in.

"Honestly, I think that anyone who puts this jersey on knows the feeling. Just because we won the World Series isn't a different feeling than anyone else who puts this jersey on. It's still the same feeling."

• Follow Bruce on Twitter @BruceMiles2112.

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Steve Lundy/slundy@dailyherald.comChicago Cubs first baseman Anthony Rizzo (44) doubles in the fourth inning during Game 5 of baseball's World Series at Wrigley Field in Chicago on Sunday, Oct. 30, 2016.
Joe Lewnard/jlewnard@dailyherald.comChicago Cubs first baseman Anthony Rizzo makes a throw to the plate during Spring training at Sloan Park in Mesa, Arizona, Wednesday.
Joe Lewnard/jlewnard@dailyherald.comChicago Cubs first baseman Anthony Rizzo watches as a teammate takes batting practice during Spring training at Sloan Park in Mesa, Arizona, Wednesday.
John Starks/jstarks@dailyherald.comChicago Cubs first baseman Anthony Rizzo (44) looks to the umpire after stealing second during Game 4 of the World Series, Oct, 29 2016, at Wrigley Field in Chicago.
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