Maddon, Cubs sticking with Starlin Castro in cleanup spot


Maddon, Cubs sticking with Starlin Castro in cleanup spot

Where does Starlin Castro fit in the puzzle that is the Cubs' lineup?

Castro's elite hand-eye coordination and skill set may seem best suited for the two-hole, but his low walk totals make it tough to put him there on a regular basis.

Castro found some success in the cleanup spot last season - .287 average, .772 OPS in 103 games - and that's where Cubs manager Joe Maddon has penciled the young shortstop over the last few weeks.

But Castro is hitting just .233 with a .527 OPS in the fourth spot in the Cubs lineup this year, with only one extra-base hit and five RBI in 15 games.

Before Tuesday's game, Maddon said he is planning on sticking with Castro in the four-hole for the time being and has seen some encouraging signs from Castro at the plate, even if the results aren't quite there yet.

"The thing we're trying to get away from is the rollover groundout to shortstop," Maddon said. "But overall, you gotta break it down and you also have to look at the alternatives - what would you like to do differently?

"And then, how do you protect [Kris] Bryant if you move him back down? It's always about putting the whole puzzle together. I really think [Castro]'s doing better than people want to give him credit for."

[MORE: Cubs should keep their eyes on Jordan Zimmermann]

Bryant has been thriving in the No. 2 spot in the lineup, where he's hit five of his six homers and posted a .944 OPS in 59 at-bats.

Anthony Rizzo has been putting up MVP-like numbers in the three-hole and the Cubs don't really have better options than Castro hitting behind Bryant and Rizzo.

Jorge Soler has just one homer and 10 RBI since April 13 and he's hitting .200 with a .572 OPS with runners in scoring position on the season. Maddon believes Soler - who is still a rookie - is trying too hard with runners in scoring position, getting anxious and expanding the zone.

Addison Russell just finished up his first month in the big leagues and Chris Coghlan's barely hitting above .200.

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Miguel Montero is enjoying a nice bounceback campaign with an .850 OPS, but having him hit behind Rizzo would mean back-to-back lefties, which could get tricky in the late innings with left-handed pitchers coming out of the opposing bullpen. Right now, Montero has been hitting fifth - behind Castro - when the veteran catcher is in the starting lineup.

Castro entered play Tuesday with a .265 batting average, which represents his lowest mark since Opening Day. But he's still on pace for 86 RBI despite only seven extra-base hits (four doubles, three homers) to date.

The Cubs still don't know where Castro ideally fits in the lineup, but for the time being, he has a chance to do some damage hitting behind Bryant and Rizzo.

Addison Russell is so over 2017: 'That's last year, don't want to talk about that'


Addison Russell is so over 2017: 'That's last year, don't want to talk about that'

MESA, Ariz. — “That’s last year, don’t want to talk about that.”

In other words, Addison Russell is so over 2017.

The Cubs shortstop went through a lot last year. He dealt with injuries that affected his foot and shoulder. He had a well-documented off-the-field issue involving an accusation of domestic abuse, which sparked an investigation by Major League Baseball. And then came the trade speculation.

The hot stove season rarely leaves any player completely out of online trade discussion. But after Theo Epstein admitted there was a possibility the Cubs could trade away one or more young position players to bolster the starting rotation, well, Russell’s name came up.

And he saw it.

“There was a lot of trade talk,” Russell said Saturday. “My initial thoughts were, I hope it doesn’t happen, but wherever I go, I’m going to try to bring what I bring to the table here. It’s a good thing that it doesn’t have to be that way. I’m happy being in a Cubs uniform, I want to be in a Cubs uniform, for sure. But there was some talk out there. If I got traded, then I got traded, but that’s not the case.”

No, it’s not, as the Cubs solved those pitching questions with free-agent spending, bringing in Yu Darvish and Tyler Chatwood to replace the departed Jake Arrieta and John Lackey. It means Russell, along with oft-discussed names like Kyle Schwarber, Ian Happ and Javy Baez, are all still Cubs.

While the outside world might have expected one of those guys to be moved in some sort of blockbuster trade for Chris Archer or some other All-Star arm, the Cubs’ young core remains intact, another reason why they’re as much a favorite to win the World Series as any team out there.

“I’m really not surprised. The core is still here. Who would want to break that up? It’s a beautiful thing,” Russell said. “Javy and I in the middle. Schwarber, sometimes playing catcher but mainly outfield. And then (Kris Bryant) over there in the hot corner, and of course (Anthony) Rizzo at first. You’ve got a Gold Glover in right field (Jason Heyward). It’s really hard to break that up.

“When you do break that down on paper, we’ve got a lineup that could stack up with the best.”

This winter has been about moving on for Russell, who said he’s spent months working to strengthen his foot and shoulder after they limited him to 110 games last season, the fewest he played in his first three big league campaigns.

And so for Russell, the formula for returning to his 2016 levels of offensive aptitude isn’t a difficult one: stay on the field.

“Especially with the injuries, I definitely wanted to showcase some more of my talent last year than I displayed,” Russell said. “So going into this year, it’s mainly just keeping a good mental — just staying level headed. And also staying healthy and producing and being out there on the field.

“Next step for me, really just staying out there on the field. I really want to see what I can do as far as helping the team if I can stay healthy for a full season. I think if I just stay out there on the field, I’m going to produce.”

While the decrease in being on the field meant lower numbers from a “counting” standpoint — the drop from 21 homers in 2016 to 12 last year, the drop from 95 RBIs to 43 can in part be attributed to the lower number of games — certain rate stats looked different, too. His on-base percentage dropped from .321 in 2016 to .304 last year.

Russell also struggled during the postseason, picking up just six hits in 36 plate appearances in series against the Washington Nationals and Los Angeles Dodgers. He struck out 13 times in 10 postseason games.

Of course, he wasn’t alone. That World Series hangover was team-wide throughout the first half of the season. And even though the Cubs scored 824 runs during the regular season, the second most in the National League and the fourth most in baseball, plenty of guys had their offensive struggles: Schwarber, Heyward and Ben Zobrist, to name a few.

“You can’t take anything for granted. So whenever you win a World Series or you do something good, you just have to live in the moment,” Russell said. “It was a tough season last year because we were coming off winning the World Series and the World Series hangover and all that. This year, we had a couple months off, a couple extra weeks off, and I think a lot of guys took advantage of that. I know I did. And now that we’re here in spring training, we’re going to get back at it.”

Cubs Talk Podcast: Discussing 5-man unit and where Montgomery fits into Cubs' plans


Cubs Talk Podcast: Discussing 5-man unit and where Montgomery fits into Cubs' plans

Jon Lester has arrived at Cubs camp, and he’s pleased with the new-look rotation full of potential aces. Kelly Crull and Vinnie Duber discuss the 5-man unit, and where Mike Montgomery fits into the Cubs’ plans.

Plus, Kelly and Vinnie talk Jason Heyward and Kyle Schwarber, along with the continuing free agent stalemate surrounding Jake Arrieta.

Listen to the full Cubs Talk Podcast right here: