Spiegel: Bryant/Rizzo combo a dream match for Cubs

  • Chicago Cubs' Kris Bryant, right, celebrates with Anthony Rizzo after hitting a three-run home run during the third inning of a baseball game against the Pittsburgh Pirates in Chicago, Friday, May  15, 2015.

    Chicago Cubs' Kris Bryant, right, celebrates with Anthony Rizzo after hitting a three-run home run during the third inning of a baseball game against the Pittsburgh Pirates in Chicago, Friday, May 15, 2015.

 
 
Posted5/21/2015 7:01 PM

Watching Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo hit back to back in the late innings once last week, I longed for context. What do the Cubs have here?

As an opposing manager, I would hate the sight and thought of them. Consecutive excellent hitters (one from the right and one from the left) would get mental bullpen wheels turning rapidly.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

Rizzo's remarkable progress against left-handed pitching has simplified things; it doesn't matter if you strategize with handedness against him. His excellence against lefties the last year and change has brought his career splits almost even.

But despite a decreased need to burn relievers, where do these two stand among the most daunting back-to-back LH-RH combos in the game?

We'll wait for a larger sample to base it on numbers alone. But I spoke to a pro scouting source from a current MLB team to get his opinions. He put Bryant and Rizzo up there with the very best.

As Joe Maddon stays consistent in batting his pitcher eighth (he's done it every game), batting second and third is the new third and fourth. The best guys hit there, ideally with the ninth hitter and leadoff man on base more often than other teams.

Based on the average number of plate appearances by lineup position in a National League season, this should add 40 or 50 PA combined by the end of the year.

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Bryant and Rizzo are hitting second and third nearly every game now. As of Thursday, Rizzo had started 10 games in the 2-hole, and 29 in the 3-spot. Bryant started 17 times at cleanup, but has hit second 11 times, and third 3 times.

Jorge Soler hit in one of those spots for 22 combined games, but has settled into fifth or sixth.

Cubs' batters are the worst in the eighth slot, by far. Other than pinch hitters (usually one of the catchers) it has all been pitchers. Their collective On Base + Slugging (OPS) of .289 is more than 200 points worse than any other team.

Meanwhile, their ninth-place hitters are leading others in almost every statistical category, though not by as wide a margin as the eighth hitters trail. That production from the ninth position should grow if Addison Russell stays there and delivers on his promise.

At leadoff, Dexter Fowler has been good. Cubs No. 1 hitters are second to Miami (and amazing Dee Gordon), in OPS and most other categories.

So the table is being set for one of the most fearsome hitting combos of 2015.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

The scout and I tried to keep current health and current production in mind, and we tried to be as specific as possible about where certain hitters are at this point in the season. Guys such as Troy Tulowitzki, Chris Davis and Robinson Cano would not get votes based on past performance.

He requested anonymity, and ranked the best RH/LH back-to-back hitters this way:

1. Matt Carpenter/Matt Holliday, Cardinals

2. Joey Votto/Todd Frazier, Reds

3. Bryant/Rizzo, Cubs

4. Howie Kendrick/Adrian Gonzales, Dodgers

5. Yunel Escobar/Bryce Harper, Nationals

6. Mike Moustakas/Lorenzo Cain, Royals

7. Prince Fielder/Adrian Beltre, Rangers

8. Nelson Cruz/Kyle Seager, Mariners

9. Alex Rodriguez/Mark Teixeira (S), Yankees

10. David Ortiz/Hanley Ramirez, Red Sox

Pretty good company. He almost went with Ryan Zimmerman over Escobar, and the truth is that Harper plus anyone is a good answer.

The Cubs now stand seventh in the NL in runs scored, sixth in OPS, second in walks, and second in stolen bases. Part of that high walk rate is because they take a lot of pitches, as written about here before.

Rizzo is pretty well established as one of the game's best lefty sluggers. It's possible the league will find a weakness in Bryant and word will get around, but odds are this continues to be the kind of pair a team dreams of having.

• Matt Spiegel co-hosts "The Spiegel & Goff Show" 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Monday-Friday on WSCR 670-AM. Follow him on Twitter @mattspiegel670.

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