Cubs

Maddon, Cubs sticking with Starlin Castro in cleanup spot

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Maddon, Cubs sticking with Starlin Castro in cleanup spot

Where does Starlin Castro fit in the puzzle that is the Cubs' lineup?

Castro's elite hand-eye coordination and skill set may seem best suited for the two-hole, but his low walk totals make it tough to put him there on a regular basis.

Castro found some success in the cleanup spot last season - .287 average, .772 OPS in 103 games - and that's where Cubs manager Joe Maddon has penciled the young shortstop over the last few weeks.

But Castro is hitting just .233 with a .527 OPS in the fourth spot in the Cubs lineup this year, with only one extra-base hit and five RBI in 15 games.

Before Tuesday's game, Maddon said he is planning on sticking with Castro in the four-hole for the time being and has seen some encouraging signs from Castro at the plate, even if the results aren't quite there yet.

"The thing we're trying to get away from is the rollover groundout to shortstop," Maddon said. "But overall, you gotta break it down and you also have to look at the alternatives - what would you like to do differently?

"And then, how do you protect [Kris] Bryant if you move him back down? It's always about putting the whole puzzle together. I really think [Castro]'s doing better than people want to give him credit for."

[MORE: Cubs should keep their eyes on Jordan Zimmermann]

Bryant has been thriving in the No. 2 spot in the lineup, where he's hit five of his six homers and posted a .944 OPS in 59 at-bats.

Anthony Rizzo has been putting up MVP-like numbers in the three-hole and the Cubs don't really have better options than Castro hitting behind Bryant and Rizzo.

Jorge Soler has just one homer and 10 RBI since April 13 and he's hitting .200 with a .572 OPS with runners in scoring position on the season. Maddon believes Soler - who is still a rookie - is trying too hard with runners in scoring position, getting anxious and expanding the zone.

Addison Russell just finished up his first month in the big leagues and Chris Coghlan's barely hitting above .200.

[NBC SHOP: Get your Starlin Castro jersey right here!]

Miguel Montero is enjoying a nice bounceback campaign with an .850 OPS, but having him hit behind Rizzo would mean back-to-back lefties, which could get tricky in the late innings with left-handed pitchers coming out of the opposing bullpen. Right now, Montero has been hitting fifth - behind Castro - when the veteran catcher is in the starting lineup.

Castro entered play Tuesday with a .265 batting average, which represents his lowest mark since Opening Day. But he's still on pace for 86 RBI despite only seven extra-base hits (four doubles, three homers) to date.

The Cubs still don't know where Castro ideally fits in the lineup, but for the time being, he has a chance to do some damage hitting behind Bryant and Rizzo.

Joe Maddon wants Cubs fans to cheer for Gleyber Torres and Eloy Jimenez

Joe Maddon wants Cubs fans to cheer for Gleyber Torres and Eloy Jimenez

Why can't a trade be looked at as a win-win? 

There doesn't always have to be a clear winner and loser.

Prior to Jose Quintana taking the ball for Saturday's game against the San Francisco Giants at Wrigley Field, Joe Maddon was asked about the players (Eloy Jimenez, Dylan Cease) the Cubs gave up to acquire Quintana as well as the deal with the Yankees for Aroldis Chapman in July 2016.

Gleyber Torres is absolutely killing it in New York, hitting .323 with a 1.014 OPS, 9 homers and 24 RBI in only 29 games. Six of those homers have come in the last week alone. 

With the White Sox, both Jimenez and Cease have found success in Double-A and Advanced Class-A, respectively.

Jimenez is hitting .331 with a .992 OPS, 9 homers and 35 RBI in 35 games. Cease is 6-2 with a 2.83 ERA, 1.22 WHIP and 57 strikeouts in 47.2 innings.

As the Cubs work to get their offense settled into a consistent groove, some Cubs fans have been looking at what might've been with guys like Torres and Jimenez.

"You can't have it both ways, man," Maddon said. "I'm happy for Gleyber. When he left, we talked about it. And we talked about the kids that went to the White Sox. It's good stuff. 

"I'm really disappointed if anybody's disappointed in the fact we won the World Series in 2016 and the fact that the guy we're talking about that we had to give up Gleyber for was so instrumental in that happening. That's bad process if you're gonna get stuck on something like that. Be happy for Gleyber. Be happy for him."

Maddon has been a fan of Torres' since he saw him in spring training in 2015, Maddon's first year in the Cubs organization.

"This kid's 21, with high, high baseball intellect," Maddon said. "He's very similar to Javy on the field. I've had some great conversations with him in the past. 

"The first time I saw him in spring training, I thought this guy's for real. It was like one at-bat, line drive to RF, I said who is this guy? And then you have a conversation with him. He's solid."

Maddon's point is a great one — would Cubs fans prefer to still have Torres and NOT have the 2016 World Series championship? Because that title doesn't happen without Chapman, regardless of how you feel about him as a person or what the Cubs had to give up to acquire him.

"Don't play that game," Maddon said. "Be happy for [Torres]. I'm gonna be happy when Eloy and Dylan make it up here. All these dudes, I want them to get here and be really good. And the guys that we get, I want them to be really good. 

"I don't understand why somebody's gotta lose all the time. This is an absolute classic example of what was good for both teams."

Summer of Sammy: Sosa's 12th + 13th homers in 1998

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AP

Summer of Sammy: Sosa's 12th + 13th homers in 1998

It's the 20th anniversary of the Summer of Sammy, when Sosa and Mark McGwire went toe-to-toe in one of the most exciting seasons in American sports history chasing after Roger Maris' home run record. All year, we're going to go homer-by-homer on Sosa's 66 longballs, with highlights and info about each. Enjoy.

An off-day did nothing to slow down the 1998 National League MVP as Sosa collected his second straight 2-homer game May 27 of that season.

He went deep in the eighth and ninth innings of a Cubs' 10-5 loss to the Philadelphia Phillies at Wrigley Field, driving in 3 runs. 

The first homer - off Darrin Winston - was an absolute blast, traveling an estimated 460 feet. The second shot was tame in comparison with only 400 feet as a recorded distance.

In a matter of two games, Sosa raised his season OPS from .930 to .988 and his slugging percentage from .521 to .577 thanks to a pair of 2-homer contests.

Fun fact: Doug Glanville - former Cubs outfielder and current NBC Sports Chicago analyst - was the Phillies leadoff hitter that day in 1998, collecting three hits and scoring a pair of runs.