Cubs

Cubs: Starlin Castro refuses to put his head down after benching

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Cubs: Starlin Castro refuses to put his head down after benching

Starlin Castro is in uncharted waters.

The 25-year-old has never been anything but a starter in his baseball career, but now he finds himself on the outside looking in at Joe Maddon's lineup.

[RELATED - Starlin Castro the odd man out of Joe Maddon's lineup]

"This is the first time [I've been in this situation]," Castro said. "But I will never put my head down. I know the talent that I have. I know the player that I am."

Castro is hitting just .236 with a .575 OPS, which ranks last among Major League Baseball shortstops and fourth-worst among all qualified players. FanGraphs rates his WAR at -0.8.

The Cubs are going for it this season, led by Maddon's "mad scientist" approach and as the Dog Days of August hits, it's about results, not worrying about people's feelings or development.

Which is why Maddon filled out a lineup two days in a row against the San Francisco Giants with Addison Russell at shortstop, Chris Coghlan at second base, Kyle Schwarber in left field and Castro on the bench.

"I feel a little frustrated, especially [Friday] when they told me," Castro said. "In the beginning, I took it really personal, but after that, I thought about it and I understand you have to put those guys in there every day. They're really hot right now.

"Whatever I can do for the team to win."

And the Cubs are winning, going 8-1 in their last nine games, including the first two against the Giants, who were a half-game up on the Cubs in the NL wild card standings entering the four-game series at Wrigley Field.

[MORE - Maddon pushing all the right buttons as Cubs keep winning]

Entering play Saturday, the Cubs (60-48) were 12 games above .500 for the first time since 2008 and Castro admitted it's easier to swallow his benching when the team is doing so well.

Castro was a career .284 hitter with a .735 OPS before this season, earning three All-Star Game appearances and is just 57 hits shy of 1,000 for his career.

But he hasn't found a rhythm at the plate at all this season, even after hitting .325 in April and looking energized playing on a winning team. Since May 2, Castro is hitting .210 with a .524 OPS.

"I don't feel pressure at the plate," Castro said. "Joe told me something was going to have to happen. I didn't know if it was me or somebody else [going to the bench].

"We're here for the team. They know what can make the team better."

Maddon understands Castro's frustration, but he and the Cubs are just hoping to get the 25-year-old back on track.

"I expect [frustration]," Maddon said. "There's no other way to evaluate that. I would be frustrated, too, from his side. But I thought he was very professional about it.

"We gotta get him right. We'll still work him back in there. Like I talked about [Friday], nothing has changed. I really like the kid a lot and we'll try to get him back on his feet."

Russell has impressed defensively at shortstop, making a seamless transition to the other side of the infield from second base. But he's also unsure of how things will play out moving forward.

[NBC SHOP: Gear up, Cubs fans!]

"Really, I don't know what's going on," Russell said. "All I know is [Castro] is a good teammate and he picks me up whenever I'm down, so that's all I can say."

Castro said he and Russell talk on a daily basis and both players continue to stress the importance of putting the team first.

For his part, Castro is focusing on getting his confidence back at the plate.

"My talent hasn't gone anywhere," he said.

Forget 2015, the Brewers are more like 2016 Cubs

Forget 2015, the Brewers are more like 2016 Cubs

With the Milwaukee Brewers about to kick off the NLCS, many Cubs fans and pundits have taken to comparing them to the 2015 Cubs.

At first glance, it's easy to see why — they're in the playoffs for the first time as something of an underdog and "surprise" team — but that's not the recent Cubs squad we should be comparing the 2018 Brewers to.

This Milwaukee team is a lot more like the 2016 Cubs.

Here's why:

1. They're not a surprise.

Nobody expected the 2015 Cubs to win 97 games and wind up in the NLCS. They were expected to compete very soon, but everything went right in a red-hot August, they rode Jake Arrieta's right arm to the NLDS and then toppled the Cardinals to get to the LCS, where they ran into the brick wall that was Matt Harvey and and the Mets pitching staff.

The 2018 Brewers are not — and should not be — a surprise. Anybody who was caught off guard by this team being so good hasn't been paying much attention. The Brewers were leading the NL Central in 2017 for much of the year before a late-season fade that coincided with the Cubs' late-season surge.

This Milwaukee squad was always supposed to be one of the top teams in the NL in 2018 and they really hit their groove in September to chase down the Cubs. Still, it took a Game 163 to force a changing of the guard atop the division.

2. They greatly improved expectations with a big free-agent OF signing over the winter.

The Cubs had Jason Heyward in between 2015 and '16. The Brewers had Lorenzo Cain.

Cain has provided quite a bit more offense in the first season of his 5-year, $80 million contract but both Cain and Heyward provided leadership in the clubhouse and elite defense in the outfield in the first years with their new teams.

3. The Brewers have the NL MVP.

This one's an easy comparison to make, though Cubs fans will hate it.

Christian Yelich is this season's NL MVP. Sorry, Javy Baez fans. "El Mago" had a great season, but it's impossible to give the award to anybody but Yelich.

Yelich winning the league's most coveted accolade would be another perfect tie-in to the 2016 Cubs, who had Kris Bryant take home NL MVP.

4. They have a dominant LHP out of the bullpen.

Josh Hader has been doing his best Aroldis Chapman impression in 2018 as an absolutely dominant southpaw out of the bullpen. Unlike Chapman, Hader's spent all season with the Brewers, but like Chapman in '16, Hader will be leaned on heavily for multiple innings throughout the rest of the playoffs.

5. They picked up some valuable in-season assets.

The 2016 Cubs dealt for Chapman, but they also traded for reliever Joe Smith and called up Willson Contreras in the middle of the year, who provided a spark for the offense.

The 2018 Brewers have acquired plenty of valuable assets along the way this season from Mike Moustakas to Jonathan Schoop to Erik Kratz (more on him later) to Gio Gonzalez. But one of their most important additions (especially in October) was the promotion of top prospect Corbin Burnes, a flame-throwing right-hander who posted a 2.61 ERA in 30 regular-season games and allowed only 1 hit in 4 shutout innings in the DS.

6. They're on a mission with a chip on their shoulder.

The 2015 Cubs had a little bit of a chip on their shoulder as they attempted to take down the divisional powerhouse that was the St. Louis Cardinals. But again, they were a surprise contender - even within that clubhouse (especially early in 2015). But after falling short in the NLCS, the Cubs retooled over the winter and came back with one goal in mind - to win the World Series.

It was a goal they accomplished. We'll see if the Brewers will be able to do the same, but they certainly came to play in 2018 with a chip on their shoulder and the ultimate goal of winning the final MLB game of the year.

The Brewers didn't lead the division from Day 1 and weren't able to coast into October, but they still wound up with homefield advantage throughout the NL playoffs.

7. They have journeyman catcher who is winning over fans' hearts.

This is a fun one.

The 2016 Cubs had David "Grandpa" Rossy who still elicts deafening cheers whenever he's shown on the giant video board at Wrigley Field. The 2018 Brewers have Kratz, who has become a fan favorite recently and was mic'd up for the final out of the NLDS.

Ross was 39 when he helped lead the Cubs to the 2016 World Series and Chicago was his eighth stop (seventh different team) along his MLB journey. Kratz is 38 and on his ninth stop (seventh different team) along his MLB journey.

In fact, Ross and Kratz are so intertwined, they've already been compared to each other by MLB.com.

But the major difference is Kratz has zero postseason playing experience until a week ago. Will he be able to ride off into the sunset with a championship ring on his finger the way Ross did?

We'll have an answer to that over the next few weeks in the final chapter of the Brewers' 2018 season, though Cubs fans surely wouldn't be too happy to see their division rivals celebrating with a World Series parade just 90 minutes north of Wrigley Field.

Cubs bench coach Brandon Hyde interviewed for Rangers' manager opening

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USA TODAY

Cubs bench coach Brandon Hyde interviewed for Rangers' manager opening

The Cubs just lost one coach with hitting coach Chili Davis getting fired. Another opening on Joe Maddon's coaching staff could also open up.

According to report from MLB.com's T.R. Sullivan, bench coach Brandon Hyde interviewed with the Rangers on Thursday.

Rangers farm director Jayce Tingler was the first candidate the club interviewed, but Hyde and Astros bench coach Joe Espada were also interviewed.

The 45-year-old Hyde has been with the Cubs since 2014. He was a bench coach in 2014 under Rick Renteria before moving to first base coach from 2015-17. This past season he moved back to his original role as bench coach.

He played four seasons in the minors for the White Sox.

The Rangers job opened up when Jeff Banister was fired on Sept. 21. Banister won AL Manager of the Year in 2015 and guided the Rangers to back-to-back playoff appearances in 2015 and 2016, but couldn't get out of the ALDS either year. A 78-84 season in 2017 was followed by an even worse 2018, which led to his firing late this season.