Cubs vs. Yankees: The differences Joe Maddon sees in Starlin Castro

Cubs vs. Yankees: The differences Joe Maddon sees in Starlin Castro

Dale Sveum – the third of five Cubs managers Starlin Castro played for – once downgraded the All-Star shortstop as a “hit collector” and dropped him to eighth in the lineup for a 96-loss team in 2013. 

From the window to contend slamming shut on the win-one-for-Tribune-Tower group to Theo Epstein taking over baseball operations, Castro worked with at least seven hitting coaches between 2010 and 2015. Throughout that cycle of hiring and firing and laying the foundation for a championship team, Cubs officials tried to project Castro as an offensive force, hoping for sharper focus, some patience and more explosive power.

The New York Yankees believe certain players can handle the bright lights and the big city and will raise their game while wearing the pinstripes. That faith in Castro – plus the financial muscle to absorb $38 million guaranteed and the Cubs needing to make room at second base for future World Series MVP Ben Zobrist – drove the deal at the 2015 winter meetings.  

Always a streaky hitter, Castro woke up on Sunday – the seven-year anniversary of his 6-RBI debut in Cincinnati – leading the American League with a .381 average and living up to the batting-title potential he flashed as a rookie. The guy who never hit more than 14 homers in a season with the Cubs already has six after the Felix Pena pitch he launched on Saturday night landed near the top of Wrigley Field’s left-field bleachers.   

“He’s really inside the ball right now,” Cubs manager Joe Maddon said. “Even the home run, he just hit a hanging slider. If he was trying to hook that ball, he would not have kept that fair. He’s really staying inside the ball well. You saw a lot of balls up the middle, opposite field. That’s when he’s at his best. 

“He looks like he’s in better shape. He’s running really well. I like the guy a lot – not a little bit. I’m hoping that he sustains it all year. You’re seeing Starlin at the top of his game. 

“But I think, for me, physically, he looks better. He looks like he is in better shape. I don’t know if that’s true or not. He just looks better and he’s moving really well. And that’s, I think, part of why you’re seeing him swing the bat so well.”    

Castro’s 0-for-8 on Sunday night/Monday morning included two RBI groundouts, including the 96-mph Pedro Strop fastball he hit in the 18th inning to drive in the game-winning run in a 5-4 win that became the exclamation point to a sweep of the defending World Series champs.

Castro will never become the type of grinding hitter who defined those old Boston Red Sox teams, but being a “hit collector” is still extremely difficult at a time of Big Data, defensive shifts, video libraries and specialized bullpens. Castro already has 15 multi-hit games this season, with at least one in 23 of his last 26 games.  
“He’s had a lot of big hits for us,” Yankees manager Joe Girardi said. “He loves to play the game. Those are the kind of things you can see sometimes from afar. But there’s a toughness there with Starlin that I’ve seen that impresses me.”

No doubt, all those experiences in Chicago shaped Castro, who hit cleanup for a first-place team that led the AL in runs scored, homers, batting average, on-base percentage and slugging percentage. 

“They’re playing as good as they can right now,” Maddon said. “They have a lot of guys having a career year right now for the first month, guys that the back of their bubblegum card does not necessarily match up to what they’re doing right now. But that doesn’t say that they can’t sustain it. There are some really interesting players (who) have made adjustments at the plate.” 

MLB commissioner Rob Manfred: 'We weren’t going to play more than 60 games'

MLB commissioner Rob Manfred: 'We weren’t going to play more than 60 games'

MLB commissioner Rob Manfred made an interesting revelation Wednesday about negotiations between MLB and the players union. In an interview with Dan Patrick, Manfred said the 2020 season was never going to be more than 60 games given the spread of the coronavirus — at least by the time they got to serious negotiations two weeks ago.

“The reality is we weren’t going to play more than 60 games, no matter how the negotiation with the players went, or any other factor," Manfred said on The Dan Patrick Show. "Sixty games is outside the envelope given the realities of the virus. I think this is the one thing that we come back to every single day: We’re trying to manage something that has proven to be unpredictable and unmanageable.

"I know it hasn’t looked particularly pretty in spots, but having said that, if we can pull off this 60-game season, I think it was the best we were gonna do for our fans given the course of the virus."

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Manfred unilaterally imposed a 60-game season after the two sides couldn't come to terms. The union rejected the owners' final proposal, retaining the right to file a grievance against the owners for not negotiating in good faith.

Whether Manfred's comments become a point of contention in any grievance the players might file is unclear. The league would likely argue Manfred was referring to negotiations after his face-to-face meeting with MLBPA executive director Tony Clark on June 16. Manfred's comments to Patrick's follow up question — if the league would have been willing to go to 80 games, had the players agreed to all their terms — also points to this.

"It’s the calendar, Dan. We’re playing 60 games in 63 days. I don’t see — given the reality of the health situation over the past few weeks — how we were gonna get going any faster than the calendar we’re on right now, no matter what the state of those negotiations were.

"Look, we did get a sub-optimal result from the negotiation in some ways. The fans aren’t gonna get an expanded postseason, which I think would have been good with the shortened season. The players left real money on the table. But that’s what happens when you have a negotiation that instead of being collaborative, gets into sort of a conflict situation.”

The players' final proposal called for a 70-game season. At this point in the calendar, 60 games in 69 days (Sept. 27 is the reported end date for the regular season) leaves room for a couple more games, not 70 (or more).

So, Manfred's right that 60 games on the current timetable was probably the most MLB can fit in amid the pandemic. But you have to wonder if the union will use those comments in a potential grievance. 


Cubs fan base named second most loyal in MLB, only trailing Red Sox

Cubs fan base named second most loyal in MLB, only trailing Red Sox

When you wait more than 100 years for a championship, you must maintain a strong sense of loyalty to your favorite team. 

Cubs fans have done that, supporting the club through thick and thin, from the mediocre years to the curse-breaking 2016 World Series season. They pack the Wrigley Field stands, consistently ranking in the top 10 in attendance season after season.

That devotion led to Forbes naming Cubs fans the second most loyal fan base in Major League Baseball, second to only the Red Sox.

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Per Forbes, the rankings are based on "local television ratings (per Nielsen), stadium attendance based on capacity reached, secondary ticket demand (per StubHub), merchandise sales (per Fanatics), social media reach (Facebook and Twitter followers based on the team’s metro area population) and hometown crowd reach (defined by Nielsen as a percentage of the metropolitan area population that watched, attended and/or listened to a game in the last year)."

All that science aside, does the 108-year wait for a championship warrant the Cubs being first on this list? In fairness, the Red Sox waited 86 years before winning the 2004 World Series, their first since 1918. Plus, in terms of attendance, the Cubs have only out-drawn the Red Sox in six of the past 10 seasons, a near-equal split.

Two historic clubs. Two historic ballparks. Two historic championships. In a loyalty ranking, you can't go wrong with either franchise. Here's how the list's top 10 panned out:

10. Braves
9. Phillies
8. Indians
7. Giants
6. Brewers
5. Dodgers
4. Yankees
3. Cardinals
2. Cubs
1. Red Sox