This is the Starlin Castro the Cubs had been waiting to see


This is the Starlin Castro the Cubs had been waiting to see

CINCINNATI – The postgame celebration/clubhouse dance party obviously included Adrian Grenier, the guy who played Vincent Chase in “Entourage” and is in town here shooting a movie.

That’s how the Cubs roll now, magnets for celebrities, national TV networks and so much playoff buzz. Starlin Castro isn’t a leading man anymore, but he finally gets it in a way he never did before.

The Cubs have been talking about this for years, Castro getting locked in, eliminating the mental mistakes and maximizing his unique physical talents.

A supporting player starred in Wednesday night’s 10-3 win over the Cincinnati Reds at Great American Ball Park, showing why he’s still in the playoff picture.

Castro went 4-for-5 and blasted his 11th home run in this up-and-down season. He also made a highlight-reel play at second base, diving to his right and throwing from his knees to steal a base hit from Brayan Pena in the fifth inning.

“Right now, he’s in the present tense, man,” manager Joe Maddon said. “His at-bats – I watch him walk up to the plate and he is absolutely in tune with each pitch. And I think he’s that way right now on defense.

“That’s what we’ve been shooting for – just to get him to understand the concept of one (pitch) and being involved in the moment.”

[MORE CUBS: Jon Lester gave Cubs exactly what they needed]

Castro isn’t worried about what happens to a three-time All-Star shortstop after losing his job to Addison Russell. Castro isn’t sweating Maddon’s daily lineup decisions or sulking if he’s on the bench. Castro isn’t listening to too many voices telling him how and when to swing.

Castro has made a few mechanical adjustments, closing his stance and moving closer to home plate, but otherwise he’s cleared his head. The results in September: a .426 average with five homers, five doubles and 20 RBI in 68 at-bats.

“I always trust the people that say: ‘Hey, you never stop learning in baseball,’” Castro said. “Now I know it’s true. Because sometimes you think you know everything and you don’t.

“Every year you got to (make) a little change to make you better.”

After being stuck on five fifth-place teams, Castro isn’t going to stress about whether or not he will start at second base next week against the Pittsburgh Pirates in the National League’s wild-card game.

But this is the Starlin the Cubs had been waiting to see.

“He is playing with such tremendous focus,” Maddon said. “Starlin is a great teammate and right now he’s playing at the top of his game. He’s playing the complete game of baseball.

“It’s not just about hitting. You saw the play on defense, how hard he’s been running to first base. Everything he’s done, he’s playing a complete game of baseball. And that’s what I love about watching him play right now.”

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

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.