In a dark season, Rizzo represented light

CHICAGO -- Just because the Chicago Cubs finished the season with 101 losses doesn’t mean all hope is lost.

Anthony Rizzo emerged as a flesh and blood representation of a brighter day, delivering extra-base hits, driving in runs and limiting his strikeouts, all while playing defense that suggested a Gold Glove would be in his near future.

As far as rebuilding cornerstones go, Rizzo and Starlin Castro are hard to beat.

“It was nice but obviously we didn't win a lot of games so that kind of dampers it,” Rizzo said after a season where he had a .285 batting average with 15 home runs and 48 RBIs in 337 at-bats. “I guess on a selfish note it was nice to come up and produce and perform especially after last year to come back from all that.”

“All that” was his rough major-league debut last season when he batted just .141 with the San Diego Padres in 128 at-bats.

Things are different now. As the winter approaches Rizzo finds himself standing on firm ground for once. He knows that when spring arrives he is finally guaranteed to have a starting job in the big leagues. He also knows he won’t be traded like he was over the last two winters, but jokes that he will take a wait-and-see approach.

“I’ll see what happens the first time the phone rings,” Rizzo said.

His feigned uncertainty is even more amusing considering how much of a fixture he already has become in the clubhouse.

There may have been some honest-to-goodness grumbling by some because he arrived with so much fanfare, but Rizzo kept his head down, worked hard and most importantly he delivered on the field.

“I always believed it (would happen), just coming up and doing it,” Rizzo said. “The more the at-bats piled up and more the numbers evened out, it was a better feeling week in and week out. I just want to build off it and put up better numbers next year and be a better teammate and be better all around.”

As for having a leadership role as early as next season, Rizzo won’t fret about it.

“It's just one of those things where I'm trying to lead by example and have fun and backing up my teammates whether it's somebody making a bad throw that I should have caught or making a good play behind them,” he said. “It's just got to go from there and build chemistry with everyone. We’re all pretty young so all our relationships are growing. That's the biggest thing, we all have to pull for each other.”

Spoken like a true leader, and somebody that sounds as if he will make sure a 101-loss season doesn’t happen again any time soon.

“There are a lot of steps to go,” Rizzo said. “Hopefully this is the beginning and hopefully this is the last losing season we have. Everyone in this clubhouse should be hungry for next year.”