PHILADELPHIA – Starlin Castro waited long enough for this that he’s not going to worry about the future, what position he might play or where the Cubs could trade him this winter.
After being a lightning rod for five fifth-place teams – and playing for his fifth manager in six seasons – Castro doesn’t need to be the center of attention or see his image opposite Derek Jeter on a billboard again.
Castro is going to appreciate the ride on a playoff contender – and not try to predict which teams could use a three-time All-Star shortstop who will be 26 years old next season.
“I don’t really think about this,” Castro said. “I don’t really put that kind of thing in my mind. Whatever they decide…if it happens, it happens.
“I don’t really (make) this about me right now. Just enjoy the moment. And (whenever) I get my opportunity, I try to do my job. That’s all we care about right now.”
The Cubs left Citizens Bank Park after Sunday’s 7-4 loss to the Philadelphia Phillies with their playoff probability still hovering near 100 percent on the computer simulations.
Up next: Four games in three days against the Pittsburgh Pirates beginning with Tuesday’s doubleheader at PNC Park. Right now: Having something to play for is more important to Castro than having a guaranteed spot in the lineup.
“It’s awesome,” Castro said. “That’s the moment that we were always talking about, what we were always thinking about in years before when the team was really bad and we weren’t winning games. We were always in last place. Now, we’re coming with different emotion.
“We’re having fun. Whatever day that you get out there, you just try to play hard and help your team to win.”
Theo Epstein’s front office – a group that doesn’t like to sell low and has publicly backed Castro in the past – can figure out what to do with the four years and $38 million left on his contract later.
“I am back on track,” Castro said. “You’ll see a lot of good things from me right now. I feel locked in.”
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Castro has accepted his role as a part-time player, hitting .360 (27-for-75) since the Cubs made Addison Russell their franchise shortstop and showing why he still has value.
“He’s handled it well the whole time,” said Anthony Rizzo, the All-Star first baseman who had been put front and center next to Castro in this rebuild. “He’s a competitor. He wants to win. He knows what’s at stake here.”
This is the team concept Joe Maddon pushed since spring training, using matchups to build his lineups each day, pulling his starting pitchers early when necessary and staying away from traditionally defined roles in the bullpen, leaving little room for egos.
“We’re together,” Castro said. “We push for everyone. I don’t push for myself only. I don’t push for Latin (players) only. I push for all (my teammates). I push for (the whole team), because we want to win.
“We come in here, and we’re having fun. We’re jumping around. One goal. It’s play baseball and keep winning.
“This is an awesome time right now. And I think we got this.”