Cubs

Castro: 'I'm ready to play baseball'

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Castro: 'I'm ready to play baseball'

MESA, Ariz. There was a row of six television cameras waiting when Starlin Castro emerged from the complex to meet the press.

Cubs officials have insisted that this wont be a distraction during spring training. Before the teams first full-squad workout on Friday, their 21-year-old All-Star shortstop addressed the sexual assault allegations that surfaced during the offseason.

Im ready to play baseball, Castro said in his first public comments since meeting with Chicago police last month. In the beginning, it was tough, but Ive taken this out of my mind in preparation to play.

The incident occurred late last September, right after the Cubs ended their season and just before Castro flew back home to the Dominican Republic for the winter. He has not been charged with a crime and his lawyers have vehemently denied the allegations.

I cooperated with the police, Castro said. I dont have (anything else) to say about that. Im grateful to play baseball.

Tom Ricketts declined to say whether the authorities have contacted the Cubs to say the matter is closed. The chairman said he doesnt know any specifics about the situation and directed everything toward Castros representatives.

Those are questions for Starlin and his people, Ricketts said. Im not going to talk about it.

Castro, who did not use an interpreter while speaking with the media, was asked what hes learned through this experience.

You got to be careful, he said, because there are a lot of bad people in the world.

This will become a talking point for the Cubs, who this spring plan to bring in experts from the Northeastern University Center for Sport in Society to educate their players on how to handle fame and the spotlight.

Theo Epstein arranged for similar seminars when he ran the Boston Red Sox. The new president of baseball operations has stressed accountability, both on and off the field, and this seems to be the first test.

Believe in your family, Alfonso Soriano said. Believe in a couple guys that youve known for a long time. But dont believe in those guys that you know for like one day or one night. You have to be careful, because you are a professional player now and everybody knows you and maybe somebody wants something from you.

Soriano who worked out extensively with Castro at the Cubs academy in the Dominican Republic this offseason has maintained that his friend is innocent. Privately, people close to Castro and around the team have essentially said the same thing.

He didnt make a mistake, Soriano said. He didnt do anything wrong. I believe in him.

Castro lived with Soriano as a rookie in 2010, and the two remain close. Soriano has tried to stress what he heard as a young player coming up with the New York Yankees.

I had a lot of people that told me, Hey, just be careful, youre in New York, a little thing here is big news, Soriano recalled. I tried to tell him before this happened that hes got to be careful because this is a big city and you play for the Cubs.

Now everybody knows you, so youre not the same guy you used to be a couple years ago. You got to be careful and stay focused and play baseball and everything will come into place.

The Cubs had built marketing campaigns around Castro and put his image up on billboards. He would not talk about the incident, and the entire media session lasted less than five minutes.

Castro met individually with Epstein, general manager Jed Hoyer and manager Dale Sveum, something the staff did with each player to go over expectations. Then he went out and took grounders and swung away in the cage underneath the Arizona sunshine.

Hes put that all behind him, Sveum said. Its just great to just have him in camp. He had a smile on his face all day.

Watch Javy Baez pull off maybe his greatest magic trick yet

Watch Javy Baez pull off maybe his greatest magic trick yet

It's Game of Thrones night at Wrigley Field, so of course it was Javy Baez who turned in the first fantastical highlight of the evening.

After drawing a walk in his first plate appearance, Baez grounded a ball to Dodgers first baseman David Freese in the second inning and wound up hitting the former St. Louis hero with the best juke move we've seen in Chicago since Walter Payton:

Everything about this is just flat-out ridiculous: How far that pitch was out of the strike zone, how Baez somehow avoided the tag (and by several feet!), how Freese could do nothing but shake his head and tip his cap — all of it.

And hats off to first base umpire Chad Whitson, who ruled it a single on the field and did not declare Baez out of the baseline.

Dodgers manager Dave Roberts came out to argue, but to no avail and Baez's 27th hit of the season became official. 

Magic.

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With the Dodgers in town, the Cubs' pitching staff will face its toughest test of the season so far

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USA Today

With the Dodgers in town, the Cubs' pitching staff will face its toughest test of the season so far

The Wrigley Field organist got his money’s worth trying to drown out the sound of batting practice on Tuesday afternoon, as early-arriving fans with bleacher tickets were treated to their first taste of what’s to be expected on the North Side over the next three games. 

The Los Angeles Dodgers are in town, and with them comes one of -- if not the -- best offenses in baseball. LA sits atop of any customizable leaderboard you care to take a look at. They lead all of baseball in fWAR (7.2), almost two whole runs higher than the runner-up. They’re second in on-base percentage (.357) and RBI (132); third in total homers (44), ISO (.225) and slugging (.489). 

“They’re not going to just go up there recklessly,” Manager Joe Maddon said before Tuesday’s game. “They’re going to make you throw the ball where you want to see it. You got to make your pitch.” 

The good news is that, since their home opener 11 games ago, the Cubs have been making their pitches. No team has walked less hitters over that time than Chicago (22). They’ll need to keep that trend going against a Dodgers team that is especially selective at the plate -- per MLB’s Statcast numbers, LA chases pitches only 21% of the time, seven percentage points lower than league average. Of their top-10 hitters in terms of pitches seen so far, not a single one has an above-average chase rate - the closest is Corey Seager at 24%. Cody Bellinger (11) and Joc Pederson (10) have more home runs between the two of them than Marlins, Pirates, Indians, Giants or Tigers have as a team. 

“When you face offenses like that, you have to be able to get them out in the zone,” Maddon said. “That’s what you have to do as a pitcher. If you tap dance or get them in their counts, they’re going to hurt you.” 

The bad news is that a shallow dive into some of the contact numbers spells potential trouble - especially in the bullpen. Three of the Cubs’ five most-used relievers (Kintzler, Rosario, and Webster) all have average exit velocities that fall in the bottom sixth-percentile or worse. Both Kintzler and Webster’s exit velocities (93.7 mph for both) fall in the bottom 2% of MLB pitchers. That’s tough sledding against a team that has 6 every day starters with better-than-average exit velocities. 

Despite what’ll surely be 72 hours of hard contact, this late-April series between two of baseball’s marquee franchises may come down one of the sport’s finer nuances: defensive positioning. 

“You have to catch the baseball - give them 3 outs an inning and that’s it,” Maddon added. “You have to set your defenses up well. This is when you do have to catch line drives. Really good defense catch line drives because they’re in the right spots.”