Bursting with confidence, Starlin Castro strikes back in Cubs-Cardinals rivalry


Bursting with confidence, Starlin Castro strikes back in Cubs-Cardinals rivalry

Starlin Castro waited so long to see Wrigley Field rocking like this, growing up inside the fishbowl and hoping to be on a Cubs team that finally played meaningful games.

So Castro admired this one on Monday night, watching Michael Wacha’s curveball disappear into the bleacher seats in left-center field, hearing the roar of 42,411 fans and helping shove the St. Louis Cardinals toward the brink of elimination with that fourth-inning home run.

Castro stood at his locker after the Cubs grabbed control of this best-of-five National League division series with an 8-6 win in Game 3. A reporter asked if he felt like a “forgotten man,” no longer the franchise shortstop and surrounded by all these hotshot rookies.

“Nah, nah, I don’t think so,” Castro said. “I don’t think they forgot about me. I’ve been here for a lot of times – bad times – and now we found a way. How to be a good team.”

[RELATED: Cubs out-slug Cardinals to take commanding control of NLDS]

The Cubs are a better team with Addison Russell playing shortstop and Castro showing some swagger again. These last two months have compressed the ups and downs throughout Castro’s career into an all-out sprint into the playoffs: A three-time All-Star loses his job, gets benched, becomes a part-time second baseman, gets hot and puts up a 1.202 OPS in September.

“Keep the head up,” Castro said. “Try to do things for the team.”

The Cubs didn’t get much interest when they shopped Castro before the July 31 trade deadline. His sixth season in the big leagues – and association with five fifth-place teams – negated his age-25 potential. He had been among the least-productive hitters in the majors – hitting .237 with a .574 OPS – and is still guaranteed four years and $38 million after this season.

Joe Maddon – Castro’s fifth manager since getting promoted from Double-A Tennessee in May 2010 – pushed for Russell at shortstop but also didn’t want to bury a guy closing in on 1,000 hits.

“I give Joe a ton of credit,” general manager Jed Hoyer said. “All along, even when (Starlin) was struggling, (Joe was saying): ‘This guy’s been awesome. His work is great. He’s great in the clubhouse. He’s great in the dugout.’ Behind closed doors, he didn’t have to always say that.

“And the work was good. That was always (Joe’s) big thing. Even when he was struggling, (Starlin) was always taking extra hitting, he was always working on stuff. A lot of guys would have cashed in the season.”

[MORE CUBS: Jake Arrieta is human against Cardinals, but Cubs are that good]

Castro cleared his head and made a few mechanical adjustments, moving closer to home plate, closing and squaring up his stance and directing all that momentum back toward the pitcher instead of reaching out to hit groundball after groundball.

Maddon played the matchups and tried to be honest with Castro, who hit .353 with 12 doubles, six homers and 23 RBI in his final 47 games after the switch from shortstop.

“The confidence is back,” hitting coach John Mallee. “Remember, he’s one of the best hitters in the game over the last five years. (But) as a human being, he felt so bad because he thought he might be letting the team down. And he tried so hard.

“He wasn’t afraid to make the adjustments he needed to make. Sometimes it’s hard for guys when they’ve had success."

After being on the wrong side of the rivalry for so long, Castro would love to see the Cubs eliminate the Cardinals on Tuesday at Wrigley Field and pop more champagne bottles.

“From the time I started my career here, every time we play St. Louis, they beat us,” Castro said. “(This is a) really good moment. We have a good team like they (do).” 

Cubs executive Jason McLeod reportedly linked to Giants' GM opening


Cubs executive Jason McLeod reportedly linked to Giants' GM opening

Is this the offseason that Cubs executive Jason McLeod finally becomes an MLB general manager?

According to Bruce Levine, the Giants are reportedly interested in McLeod, the Cubs senior vice president of scouting and player development, for their vacant general manager position.

McLeod joined the Cubs' front office in 2011 alongside Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer. Before the Cubs, he spent six years in the Red Sox front office and two in the Padres' (with Hoyer, who was San Diego's general manager from 2010-2011). 

Of course, the Giants' reported interest in McLeod doesn't necessarily mean that he will interview for the job. However, it's worth noting that McLeod interviewed for the Twins' general manager job in 2016; he also withdrew his name from consideration for the Padres' general manager job in 2014. 

In addition to the Giants, McLeod's name has been linked to the Mets' general manager vacancy. This is more speculation, but the point is that it seems to be only a matter of time before McLeod is hired as general manager elsewhere.

For what it's worth, though, McLeod is under contract through 2021 and has previously said that he is grateful to be with the Cubs. 

“I’m exceptionally grateful,” McLeod said. “All of us are. Look at where we are at this moment in time with this team," McLeod said in 2016. "I can’t imagine a better environment, a better culture to work at in baseball.

"We’ve been together a long time. We’re friends. We’re good. We embrace the fact that we are good. And we challenge ourselves to be even better.”

Cubs have new hitting coach in Anthony Iapoce

Cubs have new hitting coach in Anthony Iapoce

The Cubs are heading into a new season with a different hitting coach for the second straight winter, but the most recent choice is a familiar face.

Anthony Iapoce is set to join Joe Maddon's coaching staff this week after serving in the same capacity with the Texas Rangers for the last three seasons. The Cubs confirmed the move Monday afternoon shortly after the news broke out of the Rangers camp.

The Cubs fired Chili Davis last week after just one season as the team's hitting coach.

Entering the final week of the season, the Rangers fired manager Jeff Banister, leaving Iapoce and the rest of the Texas coaching staff in limbo.

As such, Iapoce is rejoining the Cubs, where he served as a special assistant to the General Manager from 2013-15 focusing on player development, particularly in the hitting department throughout the minor leagues.

Iapoce has familiarity with a bunch of the current star offensive players on the Cubs, from Willson Contreras to Kris Bryant. 

Both Bryant and Contreras endured tough 2018 seasons at the plate, which was a huge reason for the Cubs' underperforming lineup. Bryant's issue was more related to a left shoulder injured suffered in mid-May while Contreras' offensive woes remain a major question mark after the young catcher looked to be emerging as a legitimate superstar entering the campaign.

Getting Contreras back to the hitter that put up 21 homers and 74 RBI in only 117 games in 2017 will be one of the main goals for Iapoce, so the history between the two could be a key.

With the Rangers, Iapoce oversaw an offense that ranked 7th, 9th and 14th in MLB in runs scored over the last three seasons. The decline in offensive production is obviously not a great sign, but the Rangers as a team have fallen off greatly since notching the top seed in the AL playoffs in 2016 with 95 wins only to lose 95 games in 2018, resulting in the change at manager.

Iapoce has worked with an offense backed by Adrian Beltre, Elvis Andrus, Shin-Soo Choo, Nomar Mazara and Joey Gallo the last few seasons.

Under Iapoce's tutelage, former top prospect Jurickson Profar shed any notion of a "bust" label and emerged as a budding star at age 25, collecting 61 extra-base hits with a .793 OPS in 2018.

When the Cubs let Davis go last week, they provided no update on assistant hitting coach Andy Haines, who just finished his first season in that role and is expected to remain with the team for 2019. The same offseason Iapoce left for the Rangers, Haines took over as the Cubs' minor league hitting instructor.