ST. LOUIS Starlin Castro watched the Cardinals get their rings and pointed at his chest.Its a pretty good energy for me, Castro said. Thats what I want to be one day, on this team winning the World Series. (It) makes me more aggressive. (I feel the) anticipation for working harder.Its hard to imagine how crazy this day would be at Wrigley Field. But if its going to come this decade sometime during the Theo Epstein administration their 22-year-old shortstop will almost certainly have to be in the middle of it.On Saturday morning, Dale Sveum wrote a reminder on the dry-erase board in the clubhouse: Ring ceremony, 11:30. The Cubs manager wanted his players watching in the dugout, to show some respect for the world champions.The Cubs stood there clapping as first-base coach Dave McKay who spent 16 seasons alongside Tony La Russa in St. Louis returned to their side after picking up his ring.The Cardinals won their 11th World Series title by capitalizing on mistakes and creating a sense of momentum. Clinching the wild card on the final day of the regular season after Atlantas epic meltdown reflected their style of play over the years.This was another snapshot in St. Louis. Castro committed an error to begin the fourth inning and the Cubs watched it morph into a 5-1 loss in front of 46,792 fans at Busch Stadium.Castros throw lifted Bryan LaHair off the bag, and the first baseman didnt land right. Sveum thought the shortstop had looked at Matt Holliday running down the line.Chris Volstad wasnt exactly rattled the next batter (Carlos Beltran) flied out to center but the Cardinals strung together four consecutive hits to take a 4-0 lead.Volstad wound up going six innings and gave up four runs (three earned). He didnt make any excuses about his routine the rain delay lasted almost two hours or his defense.(Castros) doing a great job, Volstad said. Theres no worries there. Hes got a powerful arm. Thats going to happen. Im going to make bad pitches. Thats just the way the game is.As much as the Cubs (3-6) would like to raise their game against the defending champs, they dont have much margin for error, and it really doesnt matter whos in the other dugout.You always have to play good games, Sveum said. I dont know if were going to pound the ball enough to make mistakes and give runs away.To close the gap on the Cardinals (6-3), the Cubs will need to see Castro continue on a steady upward trajectory. With the previous play still in his mind, he made another high throw to start the fifth inning and was charged with his fourth error of the season.Yeah, its very frustrating, because (Ive been) working hard in the Dominican and here, Castro said. That kind of thing (isnt) supposed to happen. Its the game everybody makes errors.If it happens one time, thats (OK). Two timesthat cant happen again. Sveum, who played shortstop in the big leagues, planned to have a talk with Castro. The manager understands how difficult the position can be, and noticed a slight mechanical issue around the wrist, but otherwise gave a pass.Those are still those mistakes you can work out, Sveum said. Its not something thats a major thing. But those are the things that, unfortunately, were still probably going to see a little bit.To put it in perspective, Castros hitting .371 with six RBI and woke up on Saturday leading the majors with six stolen bases. He intends to become a complete player.Thats what I want to do, he said, put everything on the same level defense, running, hitting.This is Year 3 for Castro, a pivot point that could preview what Cubs fans will see for years to come. He isnt weighed down by history. Everything still seems to be in front of him.Why not? Castro said. Keep playing together and I think one day theres going to be championships and a World Series.
Consider the Cubs’ starting middle infield in Saturday’s 6-5 win over the San Diego Padres to be comprised of two extremes.
On one end of the spectrum was Addison Russell, who started at second base. Russell was doubled off second base on an Albert Almora line drive in the second inning — a ball hit hard enough where, had it fell in for a hit, he wouldn’t have scored. There was no spinning Russell drifting far enough off second base to be doubled up; it was simply bad baserunning.
Russell, too, was thrown out at home on an Almora ground ball in the fourth inning. He appeared to lose a pop fly in the sun, too, which fell in for a double in the third inning.
Manager Joe Maddon was willing to excuse the pop-up double — “The sun ball, there’s nothing you could do about that,” he said — but sounded frustrated with Russell’s far-too-frequent baserunning gaffes.
“He’s gotta straighten some things out,” Maddon said. “He has to. There’s no question. I’m not going to stand here — he’s got to, we’ve talked about his baserunning in the past.
“… The baserunning, there’s some things there — we’re making too many outs on the bases and we’re missing things on the bases that we can’t to be an elite team.”
Russell’s mistakes were part of a larger sloppy showing by both teams. As Cubs reliever Brandon Kintzler put it: “No lead was safe. It was really just who was going to survive and not make so many mistakes.”
Javier Baez ensured the Cubs would survive by not merely avoiding mistakes, but by coming up with two massive plays.
Baez’s three-run home run in the fourth inning gave the Cubs’ the lead for good, and he fell a triple short of the cycle. He’s homered in consecutive games, and Maddon senses the 26-year-old is emerging from a slump that dropped his OPS to .853 after Wednesday’s game, his lowest mark since the small-sample-size landscape of mid-April.
But it was Baez’s masterful tag in the bottom of the ninth inning that captured most of the attention around Wrigley Field, reminding everyone in the dugouts and stands just how incredible “El Mago” can be.
Craig Kimbrel walked Wil Myers to lead off the bottom of the ninth inning, and after budding superstar Fernando Tatis Jr. inexplicably bunted (he popped out), Myers took off to steal second base. Kimbrel sailed a fastball high and inside, and Victor Caratini’s throw was well to the left of second base. Myers appeared to have the base stolen until Baez gloved the ball and rapidly snapped a tag onto Myers’ left leg:
Javy Báez has 👀 in the back of his head! pic.twitter.com/arH1KMYUjs— Cubs Talk (@NBCSCubs) July 20, 2019
”We needed a play made, and he made it,” first baseman Anthony Rizzo said. “It’s what he does.”
Baez’s home run increased the Cubs’ win expectancy by 35.7 percent; his tag on Myers upped it that mark from 83.3 percent to 96.5 percent. This is why the Cubs’ mantra, even when Baez is in a lull, is to let Javy be Javy.
One player can’t carry a team forever — Baez had his best season as a pro in 2018, only to see the Cubs crash out of the Wild Card game, of course. But it’s hard to not think about the kind of plays Baez can conjure up when the Cubs need them the most in 2019’s playoff race.
After all, stuff like that tag on Myers — the Cubs have come to expect that from Baez.
“You saw a lot of plays today, they weren’t baseball plays,” Maddon said. “The game is clamoring for baseball players who know how to play this game, and he’s one. He is one. He’s got the biggest hard drive, the most RAM, he’s got everything going on every day.
“He sees things, he’s got great vision. Technically, he’s a tremendous baseball player. He’s going to make some mistakes, like everyone else does, but what he sees and sees in advance — it’s like the best running back, it’s the best point guard you’ve ever seen. It’s all of that. As a shortstop, that’s what he is.
“… We needed him to be that guy today and he was. And again, it’s not overtly surprising.”
Rick Telander, Ben Finfer and Seth Gruen join Kap on the panel.
0:00 - The Cubs beat the Padres from their 6th win in their 7 games since the All-Star Break. Are they really this good or are they just feasting on sub-.500 teams?
7:00 - The White Sox have lost seven straight after the break. Should fans be furious with the slump or still optimistic about the future?
13:00 - The Bears report to Bourbonnais in 6 days. Will the 2019 season be a failure if they do not make it to the Super Bowl?
19:00 - Kap gives out his play of the night in the FanDuel Friday Faves.
Listen to the entire episode here or in the embedded player below.
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