Cubs

Starlin Castro leaves Cubs with questions to answer at shortstop

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Starlin Castro leaves Cubs with questions to answer at shortstop

The idea that Starlin Castro would elevate his performance as the Cubs ramped up their rebuild – and played games that actually matter – hasn’t become a reality yet.

Joe Maddon doesn’t blast his players in public, putting a positive spin on things and making the media happy with an amusing anecdote, a clever one-liner or the perfect sound bite for TV and Twitter: “Rock and roll.”

Castro has played for five managers in six seasons, becoming a focal point for Cubs fans/bloggers, the Chicago talk-show circuit and the Twittersphere. Maybe the perception would be different if Castro had Maddon deflecting attention – and a better team around him – during those five fifth-place finishes.

But if the Cubs are really going to contend this year, then Castro’s defense has to be a concern.

You could hear some boos during the ninth inning of Wednesday night’s 3-0 loss to the Washington Nationals at Wrigley Field. Castro had just committed his second error on a groundball to shortstop, giving him 11 this season. The announced crowd of 34,215 had thinned out considerably by then, but enough frustrated fans had seen enough to make some noise.

“He’s done a lot of good things,” Maddon said afterward, defending Castro. “I would say the problem mostly with him has been the routine play more than anything else. And I really believe that you can get a major-league caliber infielder to make the routine play. And he’s been doing that for awhile. He’s had a couple of mistakes – I don’t disagree. But for the most part, I’ve been fine with him at shortstop.”

[MORE: Scherzer out-duels Lester in battle of aces Wednesday]

Maddon wondered if Castro had carried his last at-bat out onto the field, still stewing over grounding out with runners on second and third to end the eighth inning. Maddon also pointed out Castro had bailed out Addison Russell, turning a nice double play after a bad flip from the second baseman.

Yes, it’s a long season, with the Cubs having almost 72 percent of their schedule remaining. No doubt, Castro should have built up more capital as someone who earned three All-Star selections before his 25th birthday and already has almost 900 career hits.

But Washington shortstop Ian Desmond (13) is the only National League player who has committed more errors than Castro so far this season, and it makes you wonder how long the Cubs will wait before they make a defensive shakeup with Russell or Javier Baez.

The Cubs certainly didn’t lose this game because of Castro, who got two singles off Max Scherzer (6-3, 1.51 ERA) on a night where the $210 million ace looked like a Cy Young Award frontrunner. And it was Russell’s throwing error that helped create an unearned run in the fourth inning.

But Castro hasn’t taken that leap forward as an offensive force yet. He hasn’t homered in almost three weeks. He’s generated one extra-base hit in his last 14 games, his OPS sinking to .637. A batting average that had risen to .333 on May 1 has since dropped to .270.

Castro’s line-drive percentage (16.0) would represent a career low, while his groundball percentage (60.7) is soaring toward a career high, according to the online database at FanGraphs.

[NBC SHOP: Buy a Starlin Castro jersey!]

On the 25-and-under infield, Castro is playing next to two rookies in Russell and third baseman Kris Bryant. If the Cubs want to play deep into October, they need to know what they will get from their shortstop, because this team isn’t all that sharp defensively, and the mistakes will now be magnified even more.

“We work on it constantly, man,” Maddon said. “If you’ve noticed, it’s a lot of routine stuff. We’ve also made a lot of great plays the last couple days. We have made a lot of really good plays on defense, and then the one that seems to bite us is the more routine stuff. That’s just repetition and technique.

“Just being fundamentally sound, that’s all that is, and we’re working on it always. I will never denigrate the work of this group or the coaching staff. They’re outstanding. It’s just a little bit of a youthful thing. We just got to get better.”

The streak is over: Cubs win on neutral site to take first road series since May

The streak is over: Cubs win on neutral site to take first road series since May

Of course it happened this way.

After going more than three months without winning a series away from Wrigley Field, the Cubs exorcised their demons on Sunday. With their 7-1 win over the Pirates, the North Siders secured their first road series win since May 17-19 against the Nationals.

It only makes sense that the losing streak ended in such an unorthodox fashion, as there were no good explanations for why it persisted to begin with. After playing games Friday and Saturday at the Pirates’ home – PNC Park – Sunday’s series finale shifted to Bowman Field in Williamsport, PA, the city which hosts the Little League World Series.

The obvious explanation for the Cubs’ road woes is that they’ve pitched and hit better at Wrigley Field than elsewhere this season. How the team went 0-10-2 in road series since mid-May, not securing just one series win, is beyond any logical explanation, however.

That’s in the past now, and the Cubs will take the road series win, unorthodox or not. Sure, it came against the Pirates, who are now just 7-27 since the All-Star break. But Sunday’s game still was played outside of Wrigley Field, where the Cubs are now just 25-39 away from this season.

With the push for the postseason heating up, every win is important, and the Cubs can now move forward with a huge weight lifted off their shoulders.

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Javier Báez voted favorite MLB player by Little Leaguers

Javier Báez voted favorite MLB player by Little Leaguers

Seemingly day in and day out, Javier Báez does something on the baseball field that catches one's attention.

From his electric baserunning to his unbelievable tags, Báez is one of, if not the most, entertaining players in baseball. His flashiness on the field hasn't gone unnoticed by the next generation of baseball players, either.

Little League polled the Little League World Series players on their favorite MLB players. Sunday, MLB announced that Báez was ranked No. 1, ahead of Angels outfielder Mike Trout (2) and Red Sox outfielder Mookie Betts (3).

Baez's flair carried over to the Little League Classic on Sunday. The Cubs shortstop made an impressive play on a groundball hit up the middle, also making friends with the Little League players in attendance.

Keep being yourself, Javy.

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