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Starlin Castro feels right at home in Chicago

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Starlin Castro feels right at home in Chicago

Saturday, Sept. 17, 2011Posted: 4:40 p.m.

By Patrick Mooney
CSNChicago.com Cubs Insider Follow @CSNMooney
Starlin Castros not exactly sure who wrote HOF in black ink across his white Air Jordan headband, though he has a good idea. With his black, curly hair sticking out, it doesnt make him look any older. Its almost goofy as he sits in front of a laptop watching video of his at-bats.

The Hall of Fame inscription was a joke, a sign that they like to mess around with the 21-year-old prodigy in the clubhouse. But theres no doubt that the Cubs shortstop is thinking big.

As Castro closes in on 200 hits he was only six away after Saturdays 2-1 win over the Houston Astros he has enough sense of the moment that he would like to do it at Wrigley Field. As the seasons final homestand comes to a close, you are watching the future, the new face of the franchise.

No one expects Carlos Zambrano who took up so much oxygen in the room to pitch for this team again. Kerry Wood and Ryan Dempster will each turn 35 next year.

Aramis Ramirez who has been a huge influence on Castro can elect to become a free agent at seasons end. Alfonso Soriano who let Castro stay at his place last season could be unloaded this winter if the Cubs are willing to write off a huge amount of money.

Sorianos 136 million contract has become a symbol of the old way of doing business, a public-service announcement warning against the megadeal. Castro is the homegrown shortstop out of the Dominican Republic, where the Cubs will attach his image to a new academy.

Before coming here, Castro knew almost nothing about Chicago. He had heard all about the cold weather. As a kid, he watched Michael Jordan on television (amazing). Now hes found one Dominican restaurant where he can get home-cooking, and hes taken care of at his favorite steakhouse downtown.

I love this city, Castro said. The people are nice. (They) dont bother you. (But) they recognize me, more right now than last year. Everywhere I go, everybody knows me: Oh, its Starlin Castro.

Castro doubled off the ivy in left on Saturday to reach base for the 30th consecutive game. The last Cubs shortstop to do that was Ernie Banks in 1960. Castro will finish this season with around 350 career hits, all before his 22nd birthday.

If youre in the same conversation as Ernie Banks, I dont think I can embellish on that at all, manager Mike Quade said. Hes done a great job offensively all year. Its really something to see a kid that young so accomplished at this point in his career.

Whats next for an encore?

Every time I go into the season Im trying to do 200 hits and make the All-Star Game, Castro said before smiling. Like Ichiro.

Castros so driven that he slammed his bat and helmet to the ground on Saturday after striking out swinging to end the second inning. His increasing grasp of the English language was accelerated by watching ESPN and MLB Network highlights. He has an understanding of the sports history, and his place within it.

I respect everybody in the game, Castro said. Sometimes I look at another guy thats older than me and say, Oh, I want to be like this guy in the future. You know, he hits like .330, 30 homers, 100 RBI, something like that. I think about (what) I want to be one (day).

That power and the marketing opportunities that will come along with it should be the next frontier of his game. Once those line drives start soaring into the seats, Soriano is not alone in thinking that Castro will be a .300 hitter with 20-plus homers annually.

Castros parents, who lived with him this summer, have gone back to the Dominican Republic. One younger brother went home along with them, while another remained in Chicago.

Castro does not own this city yet. But across the next decade, it wouldnt be surprising to see the next generation wearing the jerseys of Castro, Derrick Rose, Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane.

Soon Castro will return home to Monte Cristi, where everyone knows his name. Hall of Fame pitcher Juan Marichal is the only other All-Star from that small city that Castro can recall.

After these final 10 games, Castro will chill at home and rest for two or three weeks. He hasnt decided whether or not hes going to play winter ball. Cooperstown or not, hes shown no signs of slowing down yet.

I feel ready to finish strong, Castro said. Sometimes (Im mentally) a little tired. But I keep going. I keep working.

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

A stellar Jon Lester outing gives the Cubs more than just a win

A stellar Jon Lester outing gives the Cubs more than just a win

It's been a tale of two halves for the Cubs veteran Jon Lester, who after a sparkling first half of baseball that saw him win 12 games with a 2.58 ERA, has looked nothing like a 2018 All-Star. Prior to Thursday's start, Lester had posted a 10.32 ERA, allowed 4 or more runs in 4 of his 5 most recent starts, and had yet to win a game in the second of the season. 

The 34-year-old veteran flipped the script Thursday night, throwing 6-shutout innings while striking out 8 Pirate batters in the Cubs 1-0 win in Pittsburgh. Lester surrendered only 5 hits and baffled the Pirates all-night, finally busting out of his slump and giving the Cubs his 2nd quality start since the All-Star break. 

Lester attacked the bottom portion of the strike zone all night with his fastball, which topped out at 93 mph, generating 4 whiffs with his heater. Over the last month, Lester has said he's felt he can't quite execute his "out" pitches, explaining that when he has a hitter set up for a strikeout he hasn't been able to throw the ball effectively in those moments. 

And while Lester walked off the mound after the 6th inning amassing 8 punch outs, the veteran starter never looked like he was trying to strike out batters. He just continued to dot the corners, occasionally raise the eye-level of the batter with an elevated heater, and threw his secondary pitches just enough to keep the Pittsburgh batters uncomfortable at the plate. 

The Cubs offense once again struggled, facing Ivan Nova who has won four his last five starts against the Cubs, but Ian Happ's solo shot in the 4th inning was enough run support for Lester to push the Cubs to 20 games over .500. But the biggest takeaway from Thursday night's win isn't that the Cubs came out on top, it's that Jon Lester returning to form gives this Chicago rotation something they've lacked seemingly this entire season. 

Stability at the front of the rotation. 

With Cole Hamels impressive three starts in a Cub uniform and Kyle Hendricks finally figuring out his issues on the mound, if Jon Lester can replicate Thursday's performance throughout the rest of the season, the Cubs rotation may finally turn into the strength many thought it could be before the season started. At the very least, Lester showed that whatever he's been working through over the last month of baseball is fixable. 

It's only one start in a string of poor outings for Lester, and while The Athletic's Sahadev Sharma did find some positives in his starts prior to Thursday's big win, Lester will have to show he can maintain this level of pitching through the remainder of this season. But I think our own Tony Andracki put it best tonight on Twitter. 

With the Cubs pitchers finally starting to perform to their expected level, and the return of Yu Darvish looking closer each day, it could be the Cubs starting pitching that carries through the rest of the season. 

Joe Maddon speaks out on Wednesday night's Marlins-Braves brawl

Joe Maddon speaks out on Wednesday night's Marlins-Braves brawl

Much has been made about Wednesday night's brawl between the Marlins and Braves, which started when Braves young star Ronald Acuna was nailed in the elbow with a 99 mph fastball from Jose Urena. The strangest part of the whole situation was that it seemed like Urena was unprovoked by Acuna or any of the Braves players prior to plunking the former No. 1 prospect in all of baseball.  

The ever wise Cubs skipper Joe Maddon was asked about the incident prior to Thursday's game, making it clear he felt plays like these needed to leave the game entirely. 

It was announced Thursday afternoon that Urena would be suspended just 6 games for intentionally throwing Acuna, which means the Marlins starter will likely only miss one game for trying to hurt Acuna. The good news is that Acuna did not sustain any serious injuries, but Joe Maddon is right there is no reason for people to be hurling nearly triple-digit fastballs at players. Whether provoked or not, intentionally throwing at players is something that needs to be phased out of the game, and its safe to assume Maddon would agree.