Cubs

After another whirlwind winter, Starlin Castro welcomes reunion with Cubs fans

After another whirlwind winter, Starlin Castro welcomes reunion with Cubs fans

MIAMI —Starlin Castro has been on a crazy ride the last few years.

The Cubs dealt Castro — the former face of the franchise — to the New York Yankees following the 2015 season to make room in the infield and lineup for Ben Zobrist, who wound up taking home World Series MVP honors 11 months after signing.

Castro missed a World Series ring with the Cubs by a year and now he finds himself in similar circumstances again in Miami. The 28-year-old second baseman was traded to the Marlins as collateral for the Giancarlo Stanton megadeal in December and is now in the midst of a full-on tear-down in South Beach.

Not many players can get used to being traded twice in two years.

"It's always a little tough in the beginning," Castro said the day before he and the Marlins host the Cubs in the first regular-season MLB game in 2018. "But the mindset doesn't change.

"We can't control this. Just try to play hard and come here every day to compete."

Only 10 players remain in a Cubs uniform since Castro last donned the blue pinstripes, but he tries to keep in touch with Anthony Rizzo and others.

In Chicago, Castro compiled 991 hits over six years (2010-15), but the Cubs have more than enough options at middle infield now — Addison Russell, Javy Baez, Ian Happ, Ben Zobrist, Tommy La Stella.

Castro was the Yankees' cleanup hitter last May in his return to Wrigley Field, protecting Aaron Judge in the lineup. Now, the reigning MLB leader in homers and RBI (Giancarlo Stanton) is providing protection for Judge.

The 2018 season will open with World Series expectations for both of his former teams, but Castro will be sitting on the outside looking in unless he's traded for a third time.

The Marlins have torn down their roster since the Stanton trade and Castro projects to hit third for Miami this weekend in the season-opening four-game set against the Cubs. Tough times are ahead for the Marlins, but Castro won't forget where he came from.

Exactly a year after his last game at Wrigley Field (May 7), Castro will once again make a trip back "home" to the Friendly Confines with the Marlins — a series he already has circled on his calendar.

Will fans give him a similar ovation?

"I love Chicago," he said. "That's the city that gave me the first opportunity to be a professional baseball player. I feel good when I play there. I'm looking forward to go over there and see all the fans."

Castro has had no ill will watching his former team make it to the NLCS twice and World Series once since his departure.

"I watched the whole World Series and I cheered for them," he said. "Some people can say, 'nah,' but I feel good for all my teammates and the city of Chicago. They deserved that championship."

Tom Ricketts brings the World Series trophy on stage during Pearl Jam concert

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NBC Sports Chicago

Tom Ricketts brings the World Series trophy on stage during Pearl Jam concert

During Saturday night's Pearl Jam concert at Wrigley Field, Cubs chairman Tom Ricketts brought out the 2016 World Series trophy, delighting all Cubs fans in attendance.

The concert was made even more special by Vedder having the highlight of David Bote's pinch-hit grand slam playing in the background during his performance of "Rebel Rebel". 

Anytime Pearl Jam is at Wrigley Field, it's a good time, but it is safe to say that Cubs fans who double as Pearl Jam fans will never forget the special night.

Double the fun: Cole Hamels, Cubs defense make history

Double the fun: Cole Hamels, Cubs defense make history

Cole Hamels' dominant start to his Cubs career continued on Friday in stellar fashion, and with some considerable help from his infield.

The 34-year-old veteran not only pitched seven innings of five-hit ball without allowing a run, but induced five ground ball double plays. The Cubs finished with a staggering seven double plays in a 1-0 win at the Pirates on Friday.

The last time the Cubs turned five double plays was in 1985. 

All five hits Hamels gave up were groundball singles. The 16 groundballs induced is the most for a Cubs pitcher this year.

After Hamels exited after seven innings, the Cubs got double plays in the eighth, on a line drive double play with Jorge De La Rosa on the mound, and ninth, on a groundball induced by Jesse Chavez to end the game.

Hamels was initially brought in to provide depth to a struggling rotation and ease the pain of Yu Darvish being unavailable. But Hamels has now started an honest debate over who should be the Cubs' starter in Game 1 of the postseason. He has been otherworldly since joining the Cubs, with an 0.72 ERA, three wins and one no-decision (the Cubs won and he had nine strikeouts). 

The 1-0 win over the Pirates gives the Cubs more breathing room in the NL Central. The St. Louis Cardinals beat the Milwaukee Brewers on Friday, pushing the Cubs lead to 4.5 games in the division.

And the Hamels hot-streak comes at an excellent time for the North Siders, who took in Jon Lester's gem of an outing on Thursday, where he went six innings with no earned runs and eight strikeouts in a win against the Pirates. The Cubs starting pitching seems to be turning the corner, and with three straight series against sub-.500 teams following their series in Pittsburgh, this could be the beginning of a great run of outings that carries the Cubs confidently into the postseason.