Anthony Rizzo immediately helps struggling Cubs from leadoff spot

Kevin Kaduk
Big League Stew

It’s just one lineup out of 162, one that won’t swing the fortunes of the 2017 Chicago Cubs one way or the other, no matter what it produces.

Still, it’s impossible to see Anthony Rizzo leading off for Tuesday night’s game against the New York Mets and not feel like there’s some measure of panic or desperation in the move. Cubs manager Joe Maddon was clearly trying to jump-start his struggling team in any way possible and this is where he’s at: Seeing if Rizzo can provide the spark that Dexter Fowler provided the last two seasons before leaving for the Cardinals in the offseason.

Early returns? Maddon’s magic works again. Rizzo went Rickey Henderson and led off the game with a homer. In his second at-bat, he walked with the bases loaded as part of a seven-run second inning and in his third at-bat, Rizzo doubled in another run. By that time, the Cubs were ahead 9-1 over the Mets. By the end, the Cubs had won 14-3 and, yes, Maddon said Rizzo would be hitting leadoff again Wednesday.

Good for a night? Sure. But long-term solution? Meh.

Rizzo atop the lineup is an odd look, even stranger than the failed Kyle Schwarber leadoff experiment or any of the five other Cubs who have taken a turn leading off this season. Rizzo has hit .249/.390/.472 with 13 homers and 37 RBI this season, appearing third in the lineup 53 times and cleanup for a total of nine games. Kris Bryant hit third against the Mets at Citi Field while Jason Heyward hit cleanup as his bounce-back season continues.

Anthony Rizzo is leading off for the Cubs on Tuesday night. (Getty Images)
Anthony Rizzo is leading off for the Cubs on Tuesday night. (Getty Images)

What a strange season for the Cubs. The defending World Series champions sit at 32-32 after Tuesday night’s win with only the sorry state of the NL Central keeping them within a game of the first-place Milwaukee Brewers. The starting rotation is struggling. Young stars like Schwarber and Addison Russell aren’t producing in general, though Russell did hit a two-run double Tuesday. And a team that looked dynasty bound at the start of spring is trying out more lineups than the Doobie Brothers tour.

There’s seemingly no way Rizzo can be the long-term leadoff man. He’s only batted first one other time in his seven-year career and the Cubs need his bat in the heart of the order. This has all the makings of a classic Joe Maddon move in which he tries to take the pressure off his struggling team by doing something unorthodox and then returns to something else a few games later.

Although if that’s the case, what will break the next leadoff slump? Do you put in a call to Kenny Lofton or Juan Pierre and see what they’re up to? See if 62-year-old Andre Dawson wants to put down the weights and give it a shot?

At some point, the Cubs are going to have to address their many needs through the trade market. A starting pitcher will be one. A consistent leadoff hitter is another.

Until then, though, it seems like Maddon will be stuck playing the lineup slot machine until something pays off.

At least the Cubs social media team seems to be having a good time with it all.

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