Cubs

Castro case hangs over Cubs Convention

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Castro case hangs over Cubs Convention

The Cubs thought they had their All-Star shortstop for the next decade, a potential star with a great name and a big smile that could be beamed around the world.

Starlin Castro can still be all of those things. He is only 21 years old and has not been charged with a crime. The organization has his back and privately has expressed confidence that this will be resolved.

But as the Cubs Convention opened on Friday, Castro was the biggest question mark hanging over this marketing event. He had traveled from the Dominican Republic but was sequestered away from the media, hours after meeting with Chicago police about an alleged sexual assault that happened more than three months ago.

The crowd inside a Hilton Chicago ballroom cheered loudly when Castro walked out onto the balcony during player introductions. Hes supposed to sign autographs on Saturday, but will almost certainly be off-limits to reporters.

Castro has worked hard to learn English, though he still uses an interpreter for many interviews. He released a statement through the team that said he has fully cooperated with the police in this matter and cant say anything more while the investigation is taking place.

I understand that being a member of the Cubs means being a hard worker on the field and a good citizen off the field, Castros statement said, and I always want to carry myself in a way that exceeds high expectations.

Alfonso Soriano has become a mentor of sorts to Castro. During a breakout 2010 season, Castro moved into Sorianos place for awhile. The two have spoken a few times this offseason.

Its very tough because Castros like my kid, Soriano said. I believe in him and I know who he is. But sometimes when youre famous and young, you dont know who wants to do good for you and who wants to do bad.

He (didnt) do that, because I know him. But (sometimes people) want to try to take advantage of that.

Every time I said to him: You have to be careful because you know whos good and whos bad. So if youve known a guy for a long time, you can talk to this guy. If you know one guy for one day, you dont have to trust him. Im very sad (about) what happened to him.

By late Friday afternoon, Theo Epstein said he hadnt been briefed on Castros meeting with police: Were eager to get updates, but were not a true party to this investigation, so were getting the information as it comes.

The Cubs president of baseball operations otherwise declined to comment and again stressed waiting to see how the situation develops.

I urge everyone to have a little patience, Epstein said. I think with stories like this, you dont want to jump to conclusions until facts are available.

Whatever the endgame, this should be a lesson for any player coming up through the system. The Cubs were trying to not talk about law and order on a day where they were trying to sell tickets and sunshine in the Wrigley Field bleachers.

The rookie-development program Epstein plans to bring over from the Boston Red Sox next winter already has its first cautionary tale.

We have a responsibility, too, to make sure our players know whats acceptable and whats not acceptable, Epstein said. We want to arm them with the knowledge necessary and techniques for how to handle themselves in difficult situations off the field.

Were going to have some (sessions) during spring training that will reflect some important values. And it really starts in the minor leagues. You have to educate these kids while theyre still kids, before they get up here and have to deal with some really difficult situations.

Podcast: Cubs pass the first test in midst of crucial stretch

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Scott Changnon

Podcast: Cubs pass the first test in midst of crucial stretch

On the latest CubsTalk Podcast Scott Changnon and Tony Andracki discuss the state of the Cubs offense, the value of Javy Baez and Addison Russell and what it means now that the starting rotation looks to be finding its form.

With 17 games in 17 days (most of which come against contending teams), the Cubs started things off right with a series victory in St. Louis.

Listen to the entire podcast here:

The Cubs are in a way better spot than they were a year ago

The Cubs are in a way better spot than they were a year ago

ST. LOUIS — It's night and day watching the 2018 Cubs compared to the 2017 version.

Even with the injury to Javy Baez Sunday night, the Cubs are in a way better spot now than they were a year ago.

On June 17 of last season, the Cubs sat at 33-34 with a run differential of just +6.

They looked flat more often than not. "Hangover" was the word thrown around most and it was true — the Cubs really did have a World Series hangover.

They admit that freely and it's also totally understandable. Not only did they win one of the most mentally and physically draining World Series in history, but they also ended a 108-year championship drought and the weight of that accomplishment was simply staggering. 

The 2018 iteration of the Cubs are completely different. 

Even though they didn't finish off the sweep of their division rivals in St. Louis Sunday night, they're still only a half-game behind the Milwaukee Brewers in the NL Central and for the best record in the league. A +95 run differential paced the NL and sat behind only the Houston Astros (+157), Boston Red Sox (+102) and New York Yankees (+98) in the AL.

Through 67 games, the Cubs sat at 40-27, 13 games above .500 compared to a game below .500 at the same point last summer.

What's been the main difference?

"Energy," Joe Maddon said simply. "Coming off the World Series, it was really hard to get us kickstarted. It was just different. I thought the fatigue generated from the previous two years, playing that deeply into the year. A lot of young guys on the team last year.

"We just could not get it kickstarted. This year, came out of camp with a fresher attitude. Not like we've been killing it to this point; we've been doing a lot better, but I didn't even realize that's the difference between last year and this year.

"If anything, I would just pinpoint it on energy."

Of course the physical component is easy to see. The Cubs played past Halloweeen in 2016 and then had so many demands for street namings and talk shows and TV appearances and Disney World and on and on. That would leave anybody exhausted with such a shortened offseason.

There's also the mental component. The Cubs came into 2018 with a chip on their shoulder after running into a wall in the NLCS last fall against the Los Angeles Dodgers. They have a renewed focus and intensity.

But there's still plenty of room for more. The Cubs aren't happy with the best record and run differential in the NL. They know they still haven't fully hit their stride yet, even amidst a 24-13 stretch over the last five weeks.

"I think we've been pretty consistent," Jon Lester said. "We've had some ups and downs on both sides of the ball as far as pitching and hitting. But the biggest thing is our bullpen and our defense has been pretty solid all year.

"That's kept us in those games. When we do lose — you're gonna have the anomalies every once in a while and get blown out — we're in every single game. It's all we can do. Keep grinding it out.

"Our offense will be fine. Our defense and the back end of our bullpen has done an unbelievable job of keeping us in these games. And if we contribute as a starting five, even better. 

"You have the games where our guys get feeling sexy about themselves and score some runs. That's where the snowball effect and we get on that little bit of a run. I feel like we've been on a few runs, it just hasn't been an extended period of time. I don't have any concerns as far as inside this clubhouse."

Lester hit the nail on the head. The Cubs sit at this point with only 1 win from Yu Darvish, Tyler Chatwood struggling with command and low power numbers from several guys including Kris Bryant.

Throw in the fact that Joe Maddon's Cubs teams always seem to get into a groove in August and September when they're fresher and "friskier" than the rest of the league and this team is currently in very good shape for the remainder of the year. 

If they can get 3 wins away from the World Series after going 33-34, the sky should be the limit for a 2018 squad that's in a much better position 67 games in.