The under-the-radar ways in which Nicholas Castellanos has helped lift Cubs

The under-the-radar ways in which Nicholas Castellanos has helped lift Cubs

Nicholas Castellanos at-bats have turned into must-see TV for Cubs fans already.

Nobody could've predicted he'd have this hot of a start to his Chicago career when the Cubs traded for him at the 11th hour of the deadline last month.

Theo Epstein's front office and Joe Maddon's clubhouse expected a professional hitter, but a .392 average and 1.214 OPS in his first three weeks is beyond anybody's wildest dreams. More than half of his games in a Cubs uniform (10) have been of the multi-hit variety.

He's also giving his team early leads on a seemingly regular basis. Wednesday night, he became the first player in Cubs history to hit a first-inning home run in three straight games when he took Dereck Rodriguez deep for a two-run shot.

But even beyond the box score, Castellanos is having a huge impact. 

It isn't just the passion, though that is palpable on a nightly basis:

Kris Bryant — who hit the homer that Castellanos is celebrating in that highlight — joked he thought the Cubs outfielder actually hurt himself and that's why he was jumping around.

"I saw that, I thought he, like, sprained his ankle or something and he was just jumping 'cause it hurt," Bryant laughed.

But that energy has been infectious for this club, from his "every day is Opening Day" mentality to his hustle. 

In Wednesday night's wild 12-11 victory over the Giants, Castellanos beat out an infield hit — his fourth knock of the contest — which set the stage for Bryant's heroics.

"He's been really, really good for us. He beat that out hustling down the line," Bryant said. "If that didn't happen, who knows what sequence of pitches I would've got. It could've changed the whole sequence. It could've changed the whole inning, so a lot of credit to him."

On two instances in that game, the other two Cubs outfielders (Kyle Schwarber, Jason Heyward), each beat out the backside of a double play ball, with Schwarber's directly leading to an important run in the sixth inning.

"That's been going on a lot lately," Maddon said of the hustle plays.

That can't all be tied to Castellanos. Schwarber hustled out a key grounder in a game in Milwaukee late last month just a few days before Castellanos was acquired and Bryant's hustle down the first-base line has been a well known staple of his game from the moment the Cubs drafted him.

But it certainly never hurts to add another such high-energy guy into the lineup, and Castellanos has been like that from Day 1. 

Maddon said he went to Heyward and Schwarber during the course of Wednesday's game to let them know he recognized their effort and appreciated it. The manager whose only rule is to "Respect 90" tries to instill that mindset on Little Leaguers and kids — "It doesn't take any talent to do that."

"It leads to a lot of runs," Maddon said. "...That's the kind of stuff that goes unnoticed. All good. You win 1-run games because of that, even if it's 12-11. We've been doing that a lot and I really appreciate it."

Then there's the trickle-down effect of what Castellanos' arrival has done for the Cubs lineup. 

"When you have the type of guy that is capable like Castellanos is to change a game from an at-bat, that's huge," Cole Hamels said. "He seems to be on second base all the time, so that helps out, turning the lineup over, getting runs in and really giving KB and [Anthony] Rizzo something to drive in. That's great for us to be able to have that.

"Plus, it makes the lineup deeper. As a starting pitcher, when you see the type of lineup we're putting out there, that's a tough lineup. It doesn't make things easy at all. ... The energy he's bringing has been outstanding. In the clubhouse, he's fit right in."

Imagine how deep the lineup will look like with Willson Contreras returns, as the All-Star catcher has been doing strengthening exercises on his injured hamstring the last couple days.

Not only does Castellanos' on-base and extra-base hit prowess put him in scoring position for the heart of the Cubs lineup, but hitting directly in front of Bryant can have a positive effect on the looks the former MVP gets before he even steps into the box.

"We are very similar hitters," Bryant said. "Pretty close to the same swings, too, so I get a lot of information from his at-bats and he works a lot of counts. Just a really professional hitter and he's so underrated. He's definitely making a name here for himself and we couldn't be happier."

It's impossible to quantify the little things Castellanos does or how much different the Cubs would look without him right now, but the calls to extend him from fans and even media have begun to pick up steam and it's understandable why.

Theo Epstein’s dog damages Arizona rental property with excessive urine

USA Today

Theo Epstein’s dog damages Arizona rental property with excessive urine

In the midst of an intensive hiring process for the new Cubs manager, Theo Epstein is being sued by an Arizona couple claiming Epstein’s dog, Winston, damaged their house. The cause of damage? Peeing excessively inside the property Epstein rented for spring training in 2015.

Yes, you read that right, Epstein’s dog peed so much he’s being sued.

The lawsuit was filed this Tuesday in Maricopa County, according to the Phoenix New Times, citing Epstein’s dog left “a terrible odor and urine-stained carpeting” in the Paradise Valley, Ariz., home where he and his family stayed.

Winston is a rescue mutt, weighing in at around ten pounds. He can’t pee that much, right?

The lawsuit states the dog "peed prolifically in the $1 million house, staining tile and stone flooring, wood door jams, cabinets, and furniture."

John and Mary Valentino referenced a 2017 quote by Epstein as proof that Winston had a peeing problem. When asked about being named the world’s greatest leader by Fortune magazine after the Cubs 2016 World Series win, Epstein said: “I can’t even get my dog to stop peeing in the house.”

Epstein left the rental property two weeks early due to a scorpion infestation later was shown a repair estimate of $51,405, according to the report.

Julian Green, the Cubs vice president of communications, told the New Times the lawsuit was “baseless.” He also said that an exterminator discovered 45 scorpions on the property that “put (Epstein’s) family at risk every time they put their children to sleep.” The Epsteins moved into a different house for the last two weeks of spring training.

The owners kept the $5,000 security deposit, and according to a source the Epsteins did not hear from them again for more than four years until the suit was filed Tuesday.

When asked about the lawsuit, Epstein replied, “As I said, we have no untouchables. Winston is definitely available in the right trade.”

We’ll be keeping tabs on this story as it unfolds. In the meantime, it’s good to see Epstein still has a sense of humor, even with a dog urine lawsuit and a Cubs managerial search on the line.

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On and off the field, Nico Hoerner proved he should be a big part of 2020 Cubs

On and off the field, Nico Hoerner proved he should be a big part of 2020 Cubs

Even before his surprise mid-September call-up, things were shaping up for Nico Hoerner to be a big part of the 2020 Cubs.

Now it looks like a certainty after the way he played in his 20-game cup of coffee in the final few weeks of 2019.

The organization's top prospect excelled at every level after the Cubs made him a first-round pick (24th overall) in June 2018. A broken wrist cost him two months this summer, but when he returned to Double-A Tennessee, the Cubs had him playing second base and center field in addition to shortstop, his natural position. That only boosted his value, as the Cubs clearly have holes at both center and second that they need to address this winter.

When he was pressed into duty after injuries to Javy Baez and Addison Russell, Hoerner proved the moment was certainly not too big for him. He hit .282 with a .741 OPS and 17 RBI in 20 games while playing solid defense at shortstop and displaying his great contact skills. 

While it's not unheard of for 22-year-olds to come up and immediately make an impact in the big leagues, Hoerner's case was particularly impressive given he played just 89 minor-league games and had not taken an at-bat above the Double-A level.

And Hoerner didn't just turn in solid production on the field — he was actually credited with helping provide a spark to the rest of the club, even though the season ultimately didn't end up the way the Cubs wanted. 

"He's been a little bit of a spark plug for us," Jon Lester said at the beginning of the Cubs' final homestand. "Any time you add energy like that, especially the naiveness of it — just not knowing what to expect and just going and playing baseball. Sometimes we all need to get back to that. Sometimes we all need to get back to just being baseball players and not worry about what else is going on surrounding us."

His former manager, Joe Maddon, called Hoerner a "differencemaker" down the stretch and felt confident he could stick at shortstop long-term.

It was also Hoerner's attitude and temperament that really drew rave reviews. Everybody — from Maddon to Theo Epstein to fellow teammates — were blown away by his sense of calm and confidence even while playing in pressure-packed big-league games. Those are the intangibles the Cubs have loved about Hoerner since they drafted him and don't expect that to change anytime soon.

"This is the type of human being he is," Epstein said. "He processes things really well he has strong character, he's in it for the right reasons, he's got a great family. He's really an invested member of the organization, a teammate and a winner."

This is the way he's always been, as his mom, Keila Diehl, explained to Kelly Crull in an interview on NBC Sports Chicago's broadcast on Sept. 14.

"He's just not full of himself," Diehl said. "He could be, and he's just not. ... He's just like this nice, ordinary guy — no attitude. Always brings a lot of energy and positivity to any team he's on."

That's exactly the guy we saw in Chicago in the final three weeks of the season. 

So as he recovers from his first full season of professional ball, Hoerner is in a position to forge a huge role for himself in Chicago next year. At the moment, it's reasonable to expect that to come at second base, but his ability to play shortstop might very well make Russell expendable this winter, especially with MLB Trade Rumors projecting the latter would be due $5.1 million in arbitration in 2020. 

The Cubs made it a point to get Hoerner some playing time at both second base and center field in the final two games of the 2019 season and he could at the very least offer a depth option in the outfield. 

His versatility, intangibles, and competitive drive present an intriguing package and his offensive skillset can help bring some diversity to the Cubs lineup. Hoerner is not really a power hitter at this point in his career but his hand-eye coordination and contact ability provide a refreshing style to this offense.

Simply put, Hoerner is just a good *baseball* player and profiles as the type of guy that can help any winning team in some capacity. 

The only question now is: Will the Cubs stash him in the minors for the early part of the season or let him continue to develop at Wrigley Field?

“We don’t ever draw it up that a player’s gonna skip Triple-A," Epstein said at his end-of-season presser. "It’s not determined yet where Nico’s gonna start next season, but given his mental makeup, given his skillset, who he is as a person, we felt that was something under the extraordinary circumstances that he could handle. I think it’s important that player development continues at the major-league level. 

"These days, it’s becoming a younger player’s game. If you look around baseball, the best teams have young players dominating. Yes, it’s not linear. There’s gonna be regression at the major-league level. But our players have had some real regression that’s taken them a while to dig out from. That’s something that we have to solve — finding ways to finish development off as best you can in the minor leagues, but understanding too that you need to create an environment at the major-league level with players who are expected to perform night after night are still developing, still working on their weaknesses, still making adjustments to the league." 

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