Cubs

Game slips out of Starlin Castros hands

Game slips out of Starlin Castros hands

Monday, April 25, 2011
Posted: 9:55 p.m. Updated: 11:50 p.m.

By Patrick Mooney
CSNChicago.com

The Cubs watch Starlin Castro and see their shortstop get to balls they havent touched in years. His range and instincts are supposed to be that good.

And Castros offensive production has been so blinding that youve missed some of his defensive flaws this month. But it was impossible to ignore during the second inning of Monday nights 5-3 loss to the Colorado Rockies.

It began when Castro bobbled a ground ball that didnt seem like a big deal. The Cubs were already out to a 3-0 lead and had Matt Garza on the mound.

The conditions were perfect for a Big Ten football game. It was 43 degrees at first pitch and at certain points it was raining sideways. With runners on first and third and one out, Castro charged another ball and fumbled it on the handoff from his glove.

The ball was kind of wet, Castro said through an interpreter. I was trying to make the play. It was one of those things.

The next batter, Chris Iannetta, chopped one toward short and Castro tried to get the out at second base. His throw sailed wide to Darwin Barneys left, bouncing all the way into the bullpen in right-field foul territory, allowing two more unearned runs to score to tie the game.

Hes going to learn to play on tougher fields like this in these kinds of conditions, manager Mike Quade said. If youre in a hurry with a wet pig, youre in trouble.

You take a minute maybe you dont get to turn a double play. You make sure you get one. They dont have weather like this in the Dominican very often, so (its) another learning experience, but we got to get better (and) its got to happen pretty soon.

On the next play, Castro drew mock cheers from the crowd at Wrigley Field by making a routine throw to get the second out. His three errors marked the most for a Cub in a single inning since Jamie Navarro in 1996.

The Cubs grade on a curve because Castro is 21 years old, the youngest player in the majors.

But it didnt take long for the fans to turn on Castro, who got booed last May during his Wrigley Field debut. He committed three errors that night, but the breaking point was when he casually walked after a ball that skipped past him into shallow left field.

That got Castro called into Lou Piniellas office. Quade benched Castro for a few games last September as a response to some mental lapses, but has repeatedly praised his young shortstops maturity.

The Cubs didnt want to overwhelm Castro with leadoff responsibilities, but he excelled there so quickly (23-for-46) that hes getting more and more at-bats as the No. 3 hitter in the lineup.

Castro woke up on Monday tied for the major-league lead in hits with 35 and soon enough the All-Star buzz will start building.

This didnt seem to be as careless. It was just another reminder that at times Castro will have to slow the game down, even when everything else in his life is moving so fast.

Barney grew up as a shortstop in Oregon playing in the rain all the time. If Castro is who the Cubs project him to be, then he will have to get used to April in Chicago for years to come.

He did the best he could. (Thats) just how it goes, Barney said. He made the plays after that (and) showed some maturity there.

Patrick Mooney is CSNChicago.com's Cubs beat writer. Follow Patrick on Twitter @CSNMooney for up-to-the-minute Cubs news and views.

Sports Talk Live Podcast: Strop, Cubs stumble. Bears really 5th best in NFL?

strop-icymi-331.jpg
USA TODAY

Sports Talk Live Podcast: Strop, Cubs stumble. Bears really 5th best in NFL?

David Kaplan is joined by David Haugh, Madeline Kenney, Tony Andracki, Sam Panayotovich & Scott Paddock. Topics include Pedro Strop's recent struggles, Addison Russell's role on the team, Yoan Moncada's move to the cleanup spot, and the Bears being ranked 5th-best team in the NFL by PFT.

- Pedro Strop is really struggling right now.

- What will Addison Russell's role be going forward. He has not been in the lineup for 3 straight games

- Can the Cubs solve all of their roster problems at the trade deadline.

- Yoan Moncada moves to cleanup. Will that be his "spot" in the future as well?

- 10 years since Mark Buehrle's perfect game.

- Bears ranked 5th-best team in NFL by Pro Football Talk. Is that too high, too low or just right?

- NASCAR: Harvick outlasts Hamlin in Foxwoods.

- Tight race at the top of the standings. Busch & Logano separated by 3 points.

- Looking ahead to this weekends's Super Bowl of Street-Legal Drag Racing event at Route 66 Raceway

Listen to the full podcast here or via the embedded player below:

Some perspective on Pedro Strop's tough outing and struggles

Some perspective on Pedro Strop's tough outing and struggles

Pedro Strop has had a tough go of it lately, but that doesn't mean it's time to panic on one of the most consistent relievers in Cubs history.

After blowing the game Monday night in San Francisco — his third blown save of the month — Strop now has a 5.47 ERA on the year and an 8.22 mark in July alone. In fact, nearly half the runs he's allowed in 2019 have come this month — 7 of 16.

But Strop has been pitching better than his ERA indicates — his FIP (Fielding Independent Pitching) is nearly a full run lower than his ERA this season. His strikeout rate (27.4 percent) and walk rate (8.5 percent) are the lowest they've been since 2016. 

That being said, the 34-year-old has also seen a precipitous spike in hard contact rate and his soft contact percentage is way down. He's been plagued by the home run ball this year more than ever before, serving up 1.7 dingers per 9 innings, the highest rate of his career (though the same can be said for many pitchers this season).

So Strop clearly hasn't been his typical dominant self this year, but he also deserves a better fate than he's had to this point in the season.

Take Monday night, for example. 

Strop came on to pitch the eighth inning of a game the Cubs were leading 4-2 and promptly gave up a leadoff double to Pablo Sandoval. On paper, that's obviously not a great start, but look at where this pitch was when the Giants third baseman hit it:

Strop followed that by striking out Stephen Vogt before executing a nice pitch to Brandon Crawford and inducing a groundball...only to see it sneak through the infield for an RBI hit:

Then came a groundout before Austin Slater's game-tying double that came just inches away from Albert Almora Jr.'s glove in center field. 

The final blow was the go-ahead double by Joe Panik...on a ball that was higher than Strop would've liked it, but still not a bad pitch off the plate outside:

These are not bad pitches; it's not like Strop was leaving the ball over the heart of the plate all inning.

How's this for bad luck — the Sandoval double was pegged for just a .070 expected batting average. 

Crawford's single was hit at 89.7 mph and had an expected batting average of .360. By comparison, Kyle Schwarber hit a grounder in the top of the inning at 102.9 mph with an expected batting average of .630 and it was an out. It was simply a matter of Crawford's ball finding a hole while Schwarber hit his right at a defender. 

No matter which way you slice it, this was a tough luck outing for the veteran setup man. 

But bad luck or not, Strop still hasn't been getting the consistent results the Cubs need in crucial innings of a tight playoff race, so it's understandable manager Joe Maddon was asked about the bullpen usage on his weekly appearance with 670 The Score Tuesday afternoon:

"When Pedro's in the game, I really feel good about it," Maddon said. "We all do. I think last night, it was more about pitch selection than it was necessarily about stuff. He was one pitch away from getting out of that thing. 

"If you replay and look at it, you see the hit by Sandoval — that ball literally almost bounced. It really did and it almost hit his back foot. I don't know how he kept that ball fair, but he did. Good for him. And then Crawford hits a slow ground ball up the middle that gets between two guys that are outstanding infielders and that's a hit."

Maddon went on to say the last hit — Panik's double — was the more concerning one because it was a sinker that just didn't drop enough. Maddon said he'd rather see Strop go to his wicked slider in that situation than lean on a pitch (the sinker/fastball) that has seen a dip in velocity and value this season.

"I don't think Pedro's that far off," Maddon said. "Maybe the velocity's down a little bit more than anything. To utilize his cutter/slider and really get that to where he wants it — those are the devastating pitches. So that was my bigger concern last night."

Moving forward, it doesn't sound as if Maddon will shy away from utilizing Strop in high-leverage situations again, but the Cubs also have the luxury of a pretty deep bullpen where they could utilize some other arms (Steve Cishek, Brandon Kintzler) to pitch the eighth inning and help bridge the gap to closer Craig Kimbrel.

Strop is 34 now and has dealt with some health issues over the last calendar year, but he has such a long track record of success that it wouldn't be surprising to see him once again emerge as a lights-out reliever before the season ends.

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