Starlin Castro will spend the All-Star break in Chicago chilling with his newborn daughter (Scarlett) and two-year-old son (Starlin Jr.) — not hanging around the best baseball players in the world.
The Cubs are finally a relevant team in Castro’s sixth season in the majors, with a star manager he loves to play for and enough big names that he doesn’t have to be the story every day.
But amid all the “We Are Good” chest-pounding, a three-time All-Star shortstop will simply be looking to start over after a disappointing first half that might have been the worst stretch of his career.
“Reset the mind, reset the body, reset everything and start rocking again,” Castro said before Saturday’s 5-1 loss to the White Sox at Wrigley Field. “No more jokes in the second half. I have to finish strong. We know how it is. Keep playing hard and try to help my team.”
The Cubs waited until the 16th inning before scoring their first run in this crosstown series. White Sox ace Chris Sale predictably shut down a lineup that needs a jolt that probably won’t be coming at the July 31 trade deadline.
General manager Jed Hoyer put it bluntly: “That help is not going to come from the outside.”
Maybe there’s a complementary outfielder out there somewhere, but the Cubs are making starting pitching the priority, since they’re already so invested in their core hitters and don’t have that much financial flexibility now.
“We know that we’re going to (need) some guys with track records to sort of get back to where they belong, and I think that will happen,” Hoyer said. “Every team goes through stretches of the season where they don’t score runs, and we’re sort of in that stretch now.”
Hoyer didn’t mention Castro by name. But Castro understands his importance and knows he needs to pick it up offensively, what it would mean if he again becomes the guy who hit .300 as a rookie and led the National League with 207 hits in 2011.
“We got the hitters here already,” Castro said. “We got (Anthony) Rizzo, (Kris) Bryant, (Miguel) Montero, (Jorge) Soler — me — and I’m slow right now. But it’s like one click (away).”
Castro came across as relaxed and confident, telling a reporter to sit down on the stool next to his locker before Saturday’s game.
Castro looked smooth out on the field, starting a double play with a flip on the run to second baseman Addison Russell in the second inning. He also made a diving stop to his right and a strong throw to first base to take away a base hit in the third inning. He went 1-for-3 with two strikeouts and scored a run, keeping his batting average at .249.
But the Cubs haven’t seen the breakthrough they hoped for this year, even with Joe Maddon, more veteran leadership and All-Star performances from Rizzo and Bryant.
Castro seemed to be taking his game to a new level last year until a season-ending ankle injury in September, leaving him with 14 homers, 65 RBI and a .777 OPS through 134 games.
Castro began the day with a .602 OPS that ranked 21st out of the 23 qualified shortstops in the big leagues. He’s hitting groundballs at a rate that would be a career high (57.1 percent), while generating line drives at a rate that would be a career low (14.9 percent), according to the online database at FanGraphs.
“I don’t think I’m doing anything different,” Castro said. “I don’t think I’m thinking too much. It’s not happening right now. But I know those kinds of things — especially when you start slow — they have to turn around, no matter what.
“The balls that we hit hard — the balls right at them — we can’t control that. The only thing that you can control is: Go out there and have a good at-bat. Things will turn around. It’s like one click off to get hot again.
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“You can’t be at .300 in two days or whatever. Just keep grinding it out, and come back in the second half to do the thing that we always do.”
The best deadline move the Cubs could make to fix their offense might be sticking with Castro and hoping he comes back motivated and refreshed after the All-Star break.
“I don’t want to put pressure on myself and try to think about it too much,” Castro said. “We have a (wide-open) second half. And I know, in the end, the numbers are going to be there.
“Let’s rock it the second half and be ready to go.”