Rizzo, Bryant dreaming of Wrigley in October

All-Stars relishing enthusiasm surrounding Cubs, believe best is yet to come

Rizzo, Bryant dreaming of Wrigley in October

CINCINNATI -- October's a long way away.

But Anthony Rizzo and Kris Bryant can almost feel it from here.

That was clear listening to the two Cubs All-Stars talk on Monday, before pulling on National League jerseys and participating in the Gillette Home Run Derby presented by Head & Shoulders. Rizzo admitted that his thoughts do turn to the postseason, when the Wrigley Field ivy will be starting to turn red.

"Wrigley's been rocking,'' said Rizzo, the young veteran whom Bryant considers a mentor. "I feel like each win, it just gets louder and louder. We won [Sunday]. I know we were playing the White Sox, with that rivalry, but we won and it was loud. We played the Cardinals, it was loud. I anticipate nothing else when I get back. I've watched YouTube videos of '08, '03, when the Cubs were in the playoffs, and Wrigleyville was crazy. We're excited about that.''

Bryant has loved his short time with the Cubs, especially the connection he is making with Chicago's fans.

"It's been crazy,'' Bryant said. "I can't imagine it being any louder than it's been the last couple of weeks. If we're fortunate enough to make a playoff run and get in there, it would be pretty special. Our fans have always been so great. It's really easy to play in front of them because they love us no matter what. We've got the best fans in baseball, I think.''

Mike Bryant on Intentional Talk

After Rizzo went out on a limb and predicted an NL Central title, the Cubs have put together a 47-40 record. They're in third place in the loaded division, eight games behind the Cardinals and 5 1/2 behind the Pirates, but they currently hold a slight lead over the Mets and Giants for the second Wild Card spot.

"It's been a lot of fun, for sure,'' Rizzo said. "It starts with surviving April. The last two years we've been under deep water in April, digging ourselves a hole. Coming back, our schedule's never easy, but we did have a hard schedule in the first half and we did pretty well. To come back and play meaningful games this late will be fun. It'll be a lot of fun.''

Rizzo's 8 taters not enough in his 1st Derby

Rizzo, 25, has been an anchor for manager Joe Maddon's team. He's batting .298 with 16 homers, 48 RBIs and 45 walks (against only 46 strikeouts). He's survived being hit by 19 pitches and defied scouting reports by stealing 12 bases.

But he's enjoyed watching Bryant almost as much as putting up his own numbers.

The 23-year-old from Las Vegas is hitting .269 with 12 homers and 51 RBIs. He has made a smooth transition to the Major Leagues, playing a solid third base and taking extra bases every time a play gives him a chance.

Must C: Cubs go back-to-back

"This is only his second year of professional baseball,'' Rizzo said. "The sky's the limit. I see his at-bats on a daily basis, either hitting in front of him or behind him. The way he takes an at-bat, the way he goes down 0-2 and grinds a walk out, you can't teach that. He's got the baseball instincts. He knows where to be, when to be. I think with the more at-bats you get, the better you'll be. He's already ahead of the curve.''

Bryant was largely advertised as a power hitter but currently projects to hit 22 home runs, a relatively modest total for a guy who hit nine in 40 at-bats in Spring Training.

"I think there are certain areas in my game I've definitely stepped up on,'' Bryant said. "Maybe I haven't hit as many homers as I have in the past, but I'm definitely still driving in runs, playing good defense, good baserunning. There's more to any baseball game than just hitting home runs. I just really like to be the complete player. I don't like to be all about home runs.''

Bryant outpaced by Pujols in Derby debut

There's no need to be in a hurry. Bryant has plenty more years to hit home runs. He and his team are only getting started.

That reality is never far away for those around the Cubs. Guys like Rizzo and Bryant genuinely believe that greatness remains just around the corner, well within their reach, for them and their teammates.

"I think we want it really bad,'' Bryant said. "I think we're establishing the culture of winning.''

Rizzo has been a Theo Epstein guy for a long time. He had faith that the Cubs were headed in the right direction since he was acquired from the Padres for Andrew Cashner. When Epstein, the club's president of baseball operations, hired Maddon and signed Jon Lester in the offseason, it was as if the switch had been flipped.

"We know what we have brewing is special,'' Rizzo said. "I think everyone knows it. There's no secret. It starts with Jon coming over here, Lester. He's got the whole free agent tasting, can go wherever he wants, and he comes here knowing what championships are like. A championship in Chicago is going to mean everything. We have the talent to do it, and we have the resources to do it. It should be a good run.''

Rizzo has a message for the rest of the NL: You haven't seen anything yet.

"It's like the start of a new Cubs generation, I feel like,'' Rizzo said. "We can all grow up together. We're all about the same age. We know we have something special going. We just have to continue to keep growing. ... I think the best is yet to come from our team.''

During the All-Star Game presented by T-Mobile in Cincinnati on Tuesday, fans can once again visit MLB.com to submit their choice for the Ted Williams Most Valuable Player Award presented by Chevrolet. Voting exclusively at MLB.com, online and via their mobile devices in the 2015 All-Star Game MVP Vote presented by Chevrolet, the fans' collective voice will represent 20 percent of the overall vote that determines the recipient of the Arch Ward Trophy.

MLB.TV Premium subscribers will be able to live stream the All-Star Game via MLB.TV through FOX's participating video providers. Access will be available across more than 400 supported MLB.TV platforms, including the award-winning MLB.com At Bat app.

The 86th Midsummer Classic will be televised nationally by FOX Sports (coverage begins 6 p.m. CT), in Canada by Rogers Sportsnet and RDS, and worldwide by partners in more than 160 countries. ESPN Radio and ESPN Radio Deportes will provide exclusive national radio coverage of the All-Star Game. MLB Network and SiriusXM will also provide comprehensive All-Star Week coverage. For more information, please visit allstargame.com.

Phil Rogers is a national columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.