Rizzo finds new way to get on base

ST. LOUIS – It’s easy to find the silver lining in the Chicago Cubs' 5-3 loss to the St. Louis Cardinals on Thursday: Anthony Rizzo and Starlin Castro continue to be consistent bats in an otherwise very ordinary lineup.

They combined to reach base six times and Castro’s two-run home run in the third inning cut the Cardinals' lead in half at the time, 4-2. Rizzo was on base ahead of him thanks to the second of two bunt hits on the day. That’s an unusual number for a team’s No. 3 hitter -- it hasn’t happened in the majors since August 2011. It was Rizzo's third bunt hit of the season.

“Everyone wants to play these shifts, and I have Castro hitting behind me,” Rizzo explained afterward. “If no one is on and they’re going to give me that -- may as well take it.

“We almost made them pay twice for it.”

Rizzo also laid down a perfect bunt in the first inning as third baseman Matt Carpenter was where the shortstop normally plays and the entire defense was shifted toward the right side, as most teams are against Rizzo. Castro followed with a hit in the first as well, but the rally stalled there.

“He’s really looking at the game from a lot of angles now,” manager Rick Renteria said. “Think about it. You’re down four runs, a solo home run isn’t going to do a whole lot for you. If you can start the line moving, why not?”

There’s maturation happening with Rizzo this season. Being happy to take walks, lay down bunts and generally just get on base might not be what he felt or did when he first came up. He has tremendous power, but now he’s playing a smarter game.

“If I’m the tying run I’m not going to be bunting,” he said. “I’m going to try and drive the ball. ... If it’s there it’s there. We’re down four, they gave it to me again, why not take it?”

Rizzo smartly noted it makes sense with no one on, as it gets the pitcher in the stretch and the shift won’t be as exaggerated with men on base. Plus, his specialty is driving the ball, so knocking those runners in would be his No. 1 priority. In Rizzo's third at-bat, Carpenter was playing nearly a normal third base, so Rizzo might be able to force teams to play him more honestly, opening some holes on the right or middle part of the diamond.

“For the most part, if teams are going to give me that I’m going to take it every time,” Rizzo said. “If they want to play the shift like that, then I’ll just take my bunts, take my hits.”

And he’ll take the upward momentum in his batting average. It’s back to .284, while Castro’s three hits brought him up to .291. There’s the silver lining in yet another loss.