Anthony Rizzo is an excellent hitter. That needs to be said, because for the first six games of the 2016 MLB postseason, he has looked like anything but.

The Chicago Cubs first baseman went 0-for-3 with a walk in Sunday’s 1-0 loss to Clayton Kershaw and the Los Angeles Dodgers in Game 2 of the National League Championship Series. Rizzo is now 1-for-23 in the playoffs with six strikeouts and zero extra-base hits.

That’s bad for anyone. For a guy who’s going to get NL MVP votes, it’s bad with a side of awful.

It’s not as if the Cubs are on the ropes. They defeated the San Francisco Giants in four games in the division series and won Game 1 of the NLCS Saturday.

Rizzo’s free fall, however, is disturbing. More specifically, it’s handicapping a lineup that ranked second only to the altitude-aided Colorado Rockies among Senior Circuit clubs in runs and OPS.

“Anytime you struggle, it’s going to be tough,” Cubs lefty Jon Lester said of Rizzo, per Rick Telander of the Chicago Sun-Times. “So I think that says a lot about our team. One of our big horses isn’t swinging the bat well, and we’ve got guys ahead of him and below him that are picking him up.”

That’s true. Kris Bryant, Rizzo’s bash brother for much of the season, has been doing damage, as has second baseman Javier Baez, who appears to be throwing a budding-superstar coming-out party.

But Rizzo is one of the biggest-stirring straws in this drink. He posted a .292/.385/.544 slash line in the regular season with 32 homers and a career-high 109 RBI.

Since Game 162, that guy has been entirely missing in action.

As if to punctuate his ill-timed slump, Rizzo came up with two outs in the bottom of the ninth in Game 2 against the Dodgers and lined out weakly to second base to send the Cubs to the showers and disappointed North Side fans to the exits.

He might as well have been a Triple-A scrub, or a pitcher pressed into emergency pinch-hitting duty.

What gives? 

Rizzo’s numbers dipped in the second half. He posted a 1.006 OPS before the All-Star break compared to an .837 mark after. But he hit six homers and tallied 16 RBI in September and October, so it’s not as if his bat turned into an undercooked spaghetti noodle.

His splits also skew worse against southpaws, not surprising for a left-handed swinger. And he’s faced three lefty starters in six playoff games, including Kershaw and Madison Bumgarner, two of the best in the business. 

More than anything, we’re dealing with a small sample size. Players slump, even the great ones, and Rizzo is slumping. He’s also battling elite competition, because that’s how it works in the postseason.

He’s not the only Cubs hitter who’s scuffling. All-Star shortstop Addison Russell and big-money free-agent Jason Heyward have likewise failed to deliver, as CBS Sports’ Kent Sterling pointed out:

Heyward, in particular, stands out because of his gaudy paychecks and grossly underwhelming regular season.

Rizzo, however, is a team leader. At age 27, he’s long in the tooth compared to many of the Cubbies’ nascent mashers. He’s a bellwether bat, the type of guy whose performance is important symbolically as well as practically.

If he can come up with a key knock or two in Game 3, it’ll energize the entire Cubs dugout. If, on the other hand, he continues his frigid ways against Dodgers lefty Rich Hill, the hand-wringing will intensify.

Anthony Rizzo is an excellent hitter. If the Cubs are going to continue their curse-busting run, he needs to start acting like it.


All statistics current as of Sunday and courtesy of unless otherwise noted.

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