Rizzo, Bryant 1-2 in MVP race

If the Cubs’ dynamic duo get the top two spots in the NL MVP voting, they’d be the first Cubs teammates in history to finish 1-2 since the Baseball Writers’ Association of America (BWAA) began handing out the award in 1931.

By Randy Richardson

As the baseball season heads into its home stretch, two Cubs are pulling ahead of the rest of the pack in the race for the National League’s Most Valuable Player Award.

Most baseball prognosticators have teammates Anthony Rizzo and Kris Bryant running neck-and-neck in the contest for NL MVP.

Sabermetrics guru Dan Szymborski’s current MVP prediction percentages have Rizzo in first (22.7 percent) with Bryant breathing down his neck (19.6 percent).

CBS Sports Power Rankings also has Rizzo and Bryant running one-two.

If the Cubs’ dynamic duo get the top two spots in the NL MVP voting, they’d be the first Cubs teammates in history to finish 1-2 since the Baseball Writers’ Association of America (BWAA) began handing out the award in 1931.

Not even former Cubs teammates Ernie Banks and Billy Williams or Ryne Sandberg and Andre Dawson ever pulled off the equivalent of winning baseball’s gold and silver medals.

The closest any Cubs teammates have ever come is first and fourth. That happened twice, in 1935 when Gabby Hartnett won the MVP and Billy Herman came in fourth, and in 1945, when Phil Cavaretta won the MVP and Andy Pafko finished fourth. In both 1935 and 1945, the Cubs made to it to World Series only to lose to the Detroit Tigers.

The closest the Cubs have come recently is a 1-5 finish in 1984, when Ryne Sandberg won the award and Gary Mathews placed fifth. That year the Cubs made it to the National League Championship Series only to lose in heartbreaking fashion to the San Diego Padres.

If the Bryzzo tandem manage to finish 1-2 in MVP voting, they’d be the seventh teammates to accomplish the feat since division play began in 1969 and the first since 2000, when San Francisco Giants’ teammates Jeff Kent and Barry Bonds took the top two spots.

CBS Sports’ Matt Snyder gives a slight edge to Rizzo based on RBI totals (through Friday Rizzo had 87 RBI to Bryant’s 79), experience and leadership. “You could make an argument here for either of the Cubs,” Schoenfield wrote earlier this week. “Both major version of WAR like Kris Bryant better than Rizzo, but that’s due mostly to defense, specifically how hard it is for first baseman to grade positively. The batting lines are similar, but my best guess is that Rizzo would barely nudge Bryant out of the way here.”

Cubs’ foil Daniel Murphy (18.3 percent) looks to be the only serious challenger to breaking up the Cubs pair, who go by the nickname “Bryzzo.” Szymborski’s sabermetrics has him trailing closely behind Bryant at 18.3 percent.

“Daniel Murphy is the intriguing guy here because he leads the NL in batting average and OPS and ranks second in RBIs while playing a premium defensive position, all things voters will love,” David Schoenfield wrote earlier this week for ESPN Insider. “His WAR numbers (3.9 and 4.6) lag behind because he’s a below-average defender and he has missed some games with nagging injuries. He has 62 fewer plate appearances than Bryant, for example.”

Nothing short of winning the World Series would make Cubs fans happier than seeing their two sluggers beat out Murphy, who, playing for the Mets last season, almost single-handedly powered his team to a four-game sweep of the Cubs in the NLCS, going 9-for-17 (.529) with four home runs (one in each game of the series).

But which of the two Cubs stars should win the award?

Manager Joe Maddon has taken a neutral position. “Bryzzo,” he told the press recently. “Absolutely. It’ll be the first time ever it’s going to end in a tie.”

Actually, it would be the second time. The award’s only tie occurred in the NL in 1979, when Keith Hernandez and Willie Stargell received an equal number of votes.

But Rizzo and Bryant would be the first teammates to be co-recipients of the award, which would surely boost the stock in the Bryzzo Souvenir Company.

Randy Richardson is the author of the Wrigleyville murder mystery, Lost in the Ivy, and a regular contributor to Wrigleyville Nation.