Atonement: Starlin Castro plays the hero for Cubs


Atonement: Starlin Castro plays the hero for Cubs

MINNEAPOLIS -- What mental mistake?

After making a costly error/brain fart in the series opener Friday, Starlin Castro got some atonement in the 10th inning Saturday.

Castro swung at the first pitch with the bases loaded and looped a single into center field to plate Dexter Fowler and Anthony Rizzo, giving the Cubs a 4-1 victory over the Twins in front of 40,066 fans at Target Field.

Castro admitted after the game it felt good to play the hero instead of the goat.

"Every day is a new day," he said. "You try to keep it going, keep your head up. ... When I started the game, I just put it out of my mind. Just tried to be aggressive.

"If I make an error, I make it and it's because I'm aggressive, not because I don't want the ball hit to me or I'm scared of making an error.

"I know I'm good and I know I'm better than that. I just have to keep my focus all game and try to make every play."

Fowler and Rizzo led the inning off with back-to-back singles and after Rizzo moved up to second on a throw toward home off a Kris Bryant fly ball, Chris Coghlan was intentionally walked to get to Castro.

[MORE: Maddon proud of the way Castro is 'wearing' mental mistake]

Chris Denorfia later singled home Coghlan to add another insurance run.

"The thing I love is, regardless of how funky the game gets, our guys don't quit," Cubs manager Joe Maddon said. "They were ready to go right there at the very end."

Castro made the final out of the game, too, with a leaping snag of a line drive, a fitting conclusion to the game. The game-winning hit was also Castro's third over the last week-plus after a couple of walk-offs at Wrigley Field last weekend.

"I was really happy and pleased for him and us," Maddon said. "I thought there was no residue. He fielded his position really well today...and then that game-winning hit, again. He's done pretty well at that the last week or so."

Jon Lester did his job as a stopper, avoiding what could have been the Cubs' first three-game losing streak since the first week of May.

Lester was brilliant, striking out seven in 6.1 innings, allowing a run on three hits and three walks. The only blemish was a Kurt Suzuki homer in the second inning, a first-pitch fastball that Lester missed his spot on.

The Cubs avoided a potential disaster in the ninth inning when James Russell walked Twins DH Joe Mauer to begin the frame. Mauer then was called safe at second on a steal attempt, before a challenge showed that he came off the base briefly on his slide while Addison Russell held the tag on him.

[NBC SPORTS SHOP: Get a Starlin Castro jersey here]

Two batters later, Torii Hunter lined a single to left center in what should have been the game-winning hit.

"Huge, huge," Maddon said of the successful challenge. "Really not expecting Mauer to run. ... We talked about it all camp, keeping the tag on the runner. Addison did, thus he's out. Very simple.

"It's part of technology, part of the new rules, but then you have to incorporate it technique-wise, which [Russell] did. You've gotta give Addison a lot of credit right there and you've gotta give our video guys a lot of credit."

The Twins ran themselves out of a couple possible runs, as Byron Buxton was gunned down in the bottom of the eighth trying to tag up and advance to second on a fly ball to center field.

That all set the stage for Castro's rebound.

"It just goes back to forgetting about what happened last night," Lester said of Castro's performance Saturday. "You move on and you show up today and whatever happened happened yesterday and you worry about today today.

"It's nice to see that from our young guys. Guys continue to grind, guys continue to battle. You would never know what happened yesterday when you showed up today. That was huge for us."

Podcast: Albert Almora Jr. dishes on his role and the Cubs’ unsung hero that keeps things loose behind the scenes


Podcast: Albert Almora Jr. dishes on his role and the Cubs’ unsung hero that keeps things loose behind the scenes

Albert Almora Jr. joins Kelly Crull on the Cubs Talk Podcast to weigh in on a variety of topics, including his budding bromance with rumored Cubs target Manny Machado, his expanded role and how he spends his time off away from the ballpark.

Plus, Almora has a surprise pick for the organization’s unsung hero, stating the Cubs would’ve never won the World Series without this guy.

Listen to the full Cubs Talk Podcast right here:

How Ian Happ got his groove back at the plate

How Ian Happ got his groove back at the plate

There's a legit case to be made that Ian Happ has been the Cubs' second-best hitter in 2018.

Yes, really.

Happ ranks second on the Cubs in OPS (.895), behind only Kris Bryant (.995) among regulars, though a recent hot streak has buoyed that overall bottom line for Happ.

Still, it's been a pretty incredible hot streak and it's propelled Happ back to where he began the season — at the top of the Cubs order. 

Happ has walked 10 times in the last 6 games and hammered out 3 homers in that span, including one on top of the Schwarboard in right field as a pinch-hitter Tuesday night.

Even more jaw-dropping: He's only struck out 5 times in the last 9 games after a dreadful start to the season in that regard.

"It was just a matter of time until things clicked a little bit," Happ said. "That's why we play 162 games and it's a game of adjustments. At the end of the day, it all evens out.

"Look at the back of Tony [Rizzo's] baseball card — it's the same thing every single year. That's how this thing goes. You're gonna have your ups and your downs and I'm just trying to be as consistent as I can. If I can level it out a little bit and be more consistent over a period of time, that'll be better for our team."

So yes, Happ is on the upswing right now and he'll inevitably have more slumps where he strikes out too much and looks lost at the plate.

Such is life for a 23-year-old who is still a week away from his 162nd career MLB game.

The league had adjusted to Happ and he had to adjust back, which he'd been working hard doing behind the scenes.

"I just try to get him to primarily slow things down," Joe Maddon said. "Try to get him back into left-center. And I did not want to heap a whole lot of at-bats on him. When you're not going good, if you heap too many at-bats on somebody, all of a sudden, that's really hard to dig out of that hole.

"So a lot of conversations — a lot of conversations — but nothing complicated. I like to go the simple side of things. I wanted him to try not to lift the ball intentionally, really organize his strike zone."

Maddon believes Happ had lost sight of his strike zone organization, chasing too many pitches out of the zone — particularly the high fastball.

Now, the Cubs manager sees Happ using his hands more and less of his arms in his swing, working a more precise, compact path to the ball.

The Happ experiment at leadoff was a disaster to begin the year — .186 AVG, .573 OPS and 22 strikeouts in 10 starts there — but all the same tools and rationale exist for why Maddon likes the switch-hitting utiliy player in that spot.

And that's why Happ was leading off Wednesday with both Ben Zobrist and Albert Almora Jr. getting the night off.

"We're gonna find out [if he can stick at leadoff]," Maddon said. "I just thought he's looked better. He's coming off a nice streak on the road trip. [Tuesday night], pinch-hitting. I know the home run's great and of course that's nice.

"But how he got to the pitch that he hit out, to me, was the important thing. Got the two strikes, took the two borderline pitches and then all of a sudden, [the pitcher] came in with a little bit more and he didn't miss it.

"That's the big thing about hitting well, too — when you see your pitch, you don't either take it or foul it off. You don't miss it. He didn't miss it."