Cubs

Starlin thinks Rizzo gives Cubs another franchise player

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Starlin thinks Rizzo gives Cubs another franchise player

Its hard to believe, but Starlin Castro is actually more than seven months younger than Anthony Rizzo, and has already played in an All-Star Game and led the National League in hits.

Castro bypassed the Triple-A level that Rizzo dominated for parts of two seasons, and has already lived through the highs and lows that come with being the next big thing.

The vision came to life on Tuesday night at Wrigley Field, a lineup built around two 22-year-olds batting second and third and anchoring the infield at shortstop and first base. The Cubs could have this show running for the next decade.

Thats what I want, Castro said before a 5-3 victory over the New York Mets. Me and him, the two franchise (players). Lets see what happens.

This is the grand experiment for president of baseball operations Theo Epstein and general manager Jed Hoyer. It was part of the calculus when they traded pitcher Andrew Cashner a former first-round pick with 100 mph velocity who some think has the potential to start to the San Diego Padres last winter in the Rizzo deal.

Its too much to read into one move, one decision, Hoyer said. But we felt like we just kind of needed those building-block players to sort of stack on top of each other to create the kind of team we want.

These kind of debut days are fun. Theres a lot of interest in them. But ultimately we know hes going to have his ups and downs. We know there will be adjustments and its really about collecting a lot of players like this and putting them on the field together.

Castro who went 1-for-4 with a walk and a run scored and kept his average above .300 had a simple message for Rizzo before he made his debut in a Cubs uniform.

Theres a lot of pressure, Castro said. Theres a lot of eyes looking at him because he was hot at Triple-A. He can come in here and help us.

I told him: Just play. Dont put pressure on yourself, play baseball like you played at Triple-A. Dont think about nothing.

Castro was reminded of his big-league debut on May 7, 2010 in Cincinnati, the three-run bomb in his first at-bat and the six RBI that set a record.

Of course, three nights later, the young shortstop heard the boos at Wrigley Field and had a talk with Lou Piniella in the managers office after committing three errors during his first game at Clark and Addison.

But I put my head up and kept playing, Castro said.

Theres no arguing that point. Surrounded by reporters, Castro stood in almost the exact same spot in front of his locker where he needed a translator almost two years ago. Hes worked hard to learn the language, and is expected to become more of a leader in the clubhouse.

Its tough when youre losing, Castro said, but its a long season and youre working hard in preparation to help your team. The teams gonna be good. We have very good people here. We got a good group.

Rizzo is now on the other side of the room, protection in the lineup and a potential Gold Glove target at first base. The future is here.

Its pretty exciting, Castro said. A lot of people look at him because hes supposed to like a superstar. Its pretty good for me, too.

SportsTalk Live Podcast: Jon Lester struggles against the division-rival Cardinals

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USA TODAY

SportsTalk Live Podcast: Jon Lester struggles against the division-rival Cardinals

It was a tough day for the North Siders.

The Cubs got obliterated by the Cardinals as Matt Carpenter had a three-homer, two-double day. Ben Finfer, Seth Gruen and Maggie Hendricks join David Kaplan on the latest SportsTalk Live Podcast to talk about the blowout.

Was Jon Lester due for this kind of terrible outing? And do the Cubs have enough to swing a big trade before the deadline?

Plus, the panel discusses Matt Nagy’s first training camp practice in the rain and Roquan Smith’s absence in Bourbonnais.

You can listen to the full podcast here or via the embedded player below:

Could Bears improve and still lose ground? The MMQB's Albert Breer weighs in on tough NFC North

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USA TODAY

Could Bears improve and still lose ground? The MMQB's Albert Breer weighs in on tough NFC North

NBC Sports Chicago’s John "Moon" Mullin talked with The MMQB's Albert Breer, who shared his thoughts on where the Bears stand — and if they’ll be able to compete — in a highly competitive NFC North.

Moon: The Bears have made upgrades, but they’re in the NFC North and not many divisions are tougher, given the strength at quarterbacks.

Breer: Yes. You look at the other three teams, and they all very much believe they’re in a window for winning a championship. The Packers are going through some changes, but they’ve gotten Mike Pettine in there as defensive coordinator and a new general manager who was aggressive on draft day. I know that internally they feel that’s going to give them a boost, and bringing Aaron Rodgers back obviously is the biggest thing of all.

Minnesota, all the things they did this offseason, signing (quarterback) Kirk Cousins, (defensive lineman) Sheldon Richardson, and they were knocking on the door last year.

The Lions have been building for two years under (general manager) Bob Quinn and (new coach) Matt Patricia, who lines right up with the general manager — the two of them worked together in New England. They really believe that Matthew Stafford is ready to take the sort of jump that Matt Ryan made in Atlanta a few years ago, where you see that mid-career breakthrough from a quarterback that we see sometimes now.

It’s one of the toughest divisions in football, and every team in the division believes that it’s in the position to contend right now.

Moon: We didn’t see a lot of Mitch Trubisky — 12 games — so it sounds possible that the Bears could improve and still lose ground.

Breer: The Lions were pretty good last year. The Vikings were in the NFC Championship game. And who knows where the Packers would’ve been if Rodgers hadn’t broken his collarbone. The biggest change is that Aaron Rodgers will be back, and that’s the best player in the league. It was a really good division last year, and you’re adding back in a Hall of Fame quarterback.

As far as the Bears, there’s going to be questions where the organization is going. It’s been seven years since they were in the playoffs. I think they certainly got the coach hire right. This is a guy who I know other organizations liked quite a bit and was going to be a head coach sooner or later.

And I think he matches up well with Mitch. I think the Bears are in a good spot, but as you said, they’re competing in a difficult environment, so it may not show up in their record.

Moon: A lot of love for the Vikings after they get to the NFC Championship and then add Kirk Cousins.

Breer: A lot of people look at Minnesota and think Kirk Cousins’ll be a huge improvement. And maybe he will be. I think he’s a very good quarterback, top dozen in the league. But Case Keenum played really, really well last year, so it wasn’t like they weren’t getting anything out of that position last year.

The NFC right now is clearly the strength of the league. If you picked the top 10 teams in the league, you could make a case that seven or eight of them are in the NFC. I think there will be NFC teams that miss the playoffs who could be in the Super Bowl coming out of the AFC. There’s a little bit of an imbalance there.

Moon: Trubisky projects as part of a wave of new quarterbacks league-wide, a sea change in the NFL.

Breer: The interesting thing is that this is probably as stable as the league has been at quarterback in a long time. There’ve been questions where the next great quarterbacks will come from, but I don’t know that there’s a team right now in the NFL like you looked at the Jets or Browns last year, where you say that team is definitely drafting a quarterback in 2019.

Everyone either has a big-money veteran or former first-round pick on their roster. One team that doesn’t is the Cowboys, but they’ve got Dak Prescott who’s played really well. Every team in the league has some stability at the position. I think the position is as healthy as it’s been in a long time, and you’ve got a lot of good young prospects.