CHRISTOVICH: Rizzo Breaks Postseason Slump
The Analyst

Chicago Cubs first baseman Anthony Rizzo is in a slump.

At least, he was until Wednesday night.

The All-Star was swinging for the fences and missing terribly. As of Wednesday morning, he was hitting .077, a measly 2-of-26,  in this year’s postseason play. This made the second postseason in a row in which expectations for Rizzo, set during his stellar regular season performances, have gone notably unanswered. He struggled in the 2015 postseason, generating only six hits in over 20 at-bats. The consistency of Rizzo’s bat seemed to be mysteriously disappearing in October.

The postseason, in general, is an entirely new ballgame for players.

Starters get thrown into the closing role, hitters feel the unique pressure of facing a full count in the bottom of the ninth as their team’s season is on the line and outfielders leap a little bit higher on the warning track to rob that homerun.

The postseason makes legends of some and failures of others. And up until Wednesday, just about everyone on the Cubs seemed to be taking the latter route.

Manager Joe Maddon told the Chicago Tribune that Rizzo’s slump this postseason could be due to “pressing,” or trying produce too much during each at-bat. He hypothesized that Rizzo could barely make contact on pitches he would normally hit squarely because he was trying to blow the cover off the ball, when all he really needed to do was get a single. Maddon also speculated that Rizzo was chasing pitches he did not normally swing at.

Maddon’s observations were common justifications for a slump, as mechanics are often blamed for a sharp drop in batting average.

But mechanics can only explain so much. Slumps are mental, especially in the postseason.

Which is why it should hardly come as a surprise that, after two strikeouts, Rizzo almost magically smashed three hits in a row — one of which was a homerun. The top of the fourth, in fact, yielded five hits from the Cubs, breaking multiple slumps at once. It started with a bunt by Ben Zobrist—a seemingly innocuous start to the fourth. Then everyone blinked about three times, snapped their fingers, and suddenly the Cubs had rather forcefully put up four runs on the scoreboard.

The magic did not stop at the end of the fourth inning. The Cubs’ offensive display continued throughout the remainder of the game. The Cubs went from two consecutive shutouts to scoring 10 runs in one epic game.

On Wednesday afternoon, everyone was asking what it would take for Rizzo and other members of the team to break out of their respective slumps.

Now that the slump has been broken, there are a million potential reasons as to how and why. It is possible that the Cubs were feeling desperate and went into complete survival mode. It is possible that they all took a different approach to batting practice. It is possible that 20-year-old Jose Urias’ fastball was just a little easier to track.

But here’s the thing about slumps: They are sports’ biggest anomaly, and no one can truly explain them.

Anyone who says that dropping your elbow, elongating your step, choking up on the bat or changing what color underwear you are wearing will pull you out of one might be telling you what they believe put their own swing back on track. And maybe, for a specific case, that player or coach might be right.

But in general, there is no prescribed antidote for a slump, especially in the postseason. As pressure and anxiety mount and the stakes are raised, the game becomes as mental as ever.

The mechanics are specific, sure — hitting a round object with another round object is statistically the most difficult physical action performed by a human being in professional sports. However, 90 percent of hitting is a subconscious self-fulfilling prophecy. Players build this prophecy when envisioning the perfect swing before bed just as much as they do in the batting cages and in Little League.

In a postgame interview, Rizzo told the Chicago Tribune that his breakout homerun was because he used teammate Matt Szczur’s bat. It is not as if the bat is magic for everyone, though. Szczur is not even on the Cubs’postseason roster. Is the bat only magic for Rizzo, then?

The truth is that we may never know. Analysts will speculate as to what exactly changed during the fourth inning last night for the entire Cubs lineup.

No one could definitively explain how the Cubs fell into their collective slump in the first place, barring some rather vague quotes about not hitting the ball hard enough and chasing bad pitches, and no one will be able to completely verbalize how they got out of it.

The Cubs are a perfect example of why explaining how a slump ends is just as difficult as explaining why the slump began in the first place.

The phenomenon is just that elusive.

But mechanics can only explain so much. Slumps are mental, especially in the postseason.

This is why it should hardly come as a surprise that, after two strikeouts, Rizzo almost magically smashed three hits in a row — one of which was a homerun. The top of the fourth, in fact, yielded five hits from the Cubs, breaking multiple slumps at once. It started with a bunt by Ben Zobrist — a seemingly innocuous start to the fourth. Then everyone blinked around three times, snapped their fingers, and suddenly the Cubs had rather forcefully put up four runs on the scoreboard.

The magic did not stop at the end of the fourth inning. The Cubs’ offensive display continued throughout the remainder of the game. The Cubs went from two consecutive shutouts to scoring 10 runs in one epic game.

On Wednesday afternoon, everyone was asking what it would take for Rizzo and other members of the team to break out of their slumps.

There are a million potential reasons as to how and why the Cubs broke out of their slump. It is possible that the Cubs felt desperate and went into survival mode. It is possible that they all took a different approach to batting practice. It is possible that 20-year-old Jose Urias’ fastball was just a little easier to track.

But here is the thing about slumps: They are sports’ biggest anomaly and no one can truly explain them.

Anyone who says that dropping your elbow, elongating your step, choking up on the bat or changing what color underwear you wear will pull you out of one might be telling you what they believe put their own swing back on track. And maybe, for a specific case, that player or coach might be right.

But in general, there is no prescribed antidote for a slump, especially in the postseason. As pressure and anxiety mount and the stakes are raised, the game becomes as mental as ever.

The mechanics are specific, sure — hitting a round object with another round object is statistically the most difficult physical action performed by a human being in professional sports. However, 90 percent of hitting is a subconscious, self-fulfilling prophecy. Players build this prophecy when envisioning the perfect swing before bed just as much as they do in the batting cages and in Little League.

In a postgame interview, Rizzo told the Chicago Tribune that his breakout homerun was because he used teammate Matt Szczur’s bat. It is not as if the bat is magic for everyone, though. Szczur is not even on the Cubs’postseason roster. Is the bat only magic for Rizzo, then?

The truth is that we may never know. Analysts will speculate as to what exactly changed during the fourth inning of Wednesday night’s game for the entire Cubs lineup.

No one could definitively explain how the Cubs fell into their collective slump in the first place, barring some rather vague quotes about not hitting the ball hard enough and chasing bad pitches, and no one will be able to completely verbalize how they got out of it.

The Cubs are a perfect example of why explaining how a slump ends is just as difficult as explaining why the slump began in the first place.

The phenomenon is just that elusive.

Amanda Christovich is a sophomore in the College. The Analyst appears every Friday.

Have a reaction to this article? Write a letter to the editor.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

*

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>