Posted on September 16, 2019, by Bryan Zarpentine
The Chicago Cubs may have to find a way to make the playoffs without first baseman Anthony Rizzo during the final two weeks of the regular season. The club is uncertain whether Rizzo will return before the end of the regular season after being diagnosed with a sprained right ankle on Monday. The news could have been worse, but Rizzo’s status is uncertain moving forward.
The 30-year-old Rizzo hurt his ankle Sunday while fielding a bunt. He fell awkwardly after planting his foot to throw to first base. Rizzo required help getting off the field, although X-rays performed right after the game indicated there was no fracture. However, an MRI performed Monday showed a mild ankle sprain.
The plan is for Rizzo to spend five to seven days in a walking boot before being re-evaluated. That leaves the door open for Rizzo to return before the end of the regular season, which is less than two weeks away. However, sprained ankles are notoriously fickle and can vary from person to person. If Rizzo doesn’t show improvement after a week in a walking boot, there’s no telling when he may be able to retur.
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“I have every intention of doing everything I can with the training staff to be back on the field with the boys,” Rizzo said Monday. “I think in a few days, really, will tell us a lot more.”
Obviously, if the Cubs make the postseason, it increases Rizzo’s chances of making it back. Of course, that task will be a lot more difficult without their starting first baseman. Rizzo is currently having one of his best seasons. He’s hitting .289 with an OPS of .920. Rizzo has batted either third or fourth in Chicago’s lineup for most of the season, and replacing that productivity in the middle of the order will be a challenge.
“Obviously, these weeks in September and October is why I play baseball,” said Rizzo. “It’s pressure packed, action packed. So, to miss any time right now, it sucks. But, it could be worse. I’m grateful it’s not worse.”
The Cubs have several options to replace Rizzo at first base. Backup catcher Victor Caratini could see the most time at that position. He’s been productive with the bat this year, although in a part-time role. He also has limited experience at first base. The versatile Ian Happ is another option, having replaced Rizzo after he left Sunday’s game. Kris Bryant could slide over, although that would create a hole at third base. Utility man Ben Zobrist can also play first base. However, he’s needed at second base these days with both Javier Baez and Addison Russell sidelined.
With Rizzo joining Baez on the shelf, the Cubs are currently without two of their most impactful offensive players. As mentioned, Chicago has plenty of depth and several versatile players who can help fill the void. However, it’s hard to imagine the Cubs not missing the presence of both during their final 13 games of the season.
As it stands, the Cubs are two games behind the Cardinals in the NL Central race. Chicago currently holds the second Wild Card spot, but they have a slim one-game lead over the Brewers. In such a tight race, being without Rizzo and Baez could end up being the difference. On the bright side, the Cubs entered Monday on a four-game winning streak, so the players that remain are doing their part to keep the Cubs in playoff position.
“We’re gonna miss Riz, we already miss Javy,” said Cubs manager Joe Maddon. “But I really believe the rest of the group is up to the task.”