Cubs: Starlin Castro, and the future of the franchise

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Cubs: Starlin Castro, and the future of the franchise

PITTSBURGH There will come a time where the narrative will shift from what Starlin Castro could become to what he hasnt done yet.

Fair or not, thats just the game of expectations. At the age of 22, Castro has already put up two .300 seasons, played in the All-Star Game and led the National League in hits.

The Cubs marketing department had already put Castro up on billboards by the time Theo Epsteins front office inherited what may be a franchise shortstop to build their team around.

But people will want more, and expect to see a power surge and better defensive focus, even though Castro is already pretty, pretty good.

Ready or not, Cubs manager Dale Sveum said back in spring training that it was time to commit to Castro as the No. 3 hitter, for the future of the franchise.

By Friday, the Cubs were on a nine-game losing streak and had scored in four of their last 47 innings. Sveum responded by moving Castro to the No. 2 spot and signaling that Joe Mather will get an extended look hitting third and playing center field.

Its time, Sveum said. (Its) the combination of not really scoring throughout the whole season and Mathers been as good as anybody swinging the bat. Its going to give him a little opportunity to see what he can do.

I told Castro: Its not a demotion. Its just more shaking the team up. He was great about it (and said): Hey, I just want to win. I dont care where I hit in the lineup.

Thats an essential part of Castros personality: Nothing seems to faze him.

Just how high is Castros ceiling? That will be a central question as Epstein and general manager Jed Hoyer try to lay the foundation for sustained success.

Castro entered Friday hitting .313 with two homers and 25 RBI, which was tied for third in the majors among middle infielders. Clearly, he can provide offense at a premium position.

But if the Cubs are going to mirror those Boston Red Sox teams that would grind out at-bats and play four-hour games, then Castro will have to improve his .323 on-base percentage. He has walked once in the past six weeks.

Does Castro profile as a No. 3 hitter for the future?

He hasnt done anything (wrong), Sveum said. Hes hitting .350 with men in scoring position. Hes hitting over .300. Thats pretty good out of the third spot. You might want more home runs.

But you take some of those balls he hit with the wind howling in, you could still have five or six home runs. Theres nothing hes done to be put down to the two spot. Its just more something to change to get everything going.

Sveum kept talking, using a Lou Piniella line from a few years ago: You never know, sometimes you pick a lineup out of a hat and you win. I wasnt going to go that far but

Castro has already played for three different managers. Hes done it in a big market playing for a marquee team (in fifth place). It would be interesting to see how he responds to the pressure of a pennant race, how he performs with a better supporting cast.

But before we get to that point, Year 3 in the big leagues could say a lot about the rest of Castros career.

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Five Things to Watch: Blackhawks host Lightning tonight on CSN

Five Things to Watch: Blackhawks host Lightning tonight on CSN

Watch as the Blackhawks take on the Tampa Bay Lightning tonight on CSN and streaming live on CSNChicago.com. Coverage begins at 7 p.m. with Blackhawks Pregame Live. Then stick around after the final buzzer to watch Blackhawks Postgame Live for highlights and analysis.

Click here to watch the game or download the NBC Sports App, your home for live streaming coverage of the Blackhawks.

Five Things to Watch:

1. Grab the first goal.

The Blackhawks have scored the game's first goal in seven of the last eight games, and of those seven, they've won six of them. Meanwhile, the Lightning have scored the first goal only 17 times in 48 games this season, and are 12-5-1 in those games. They're 9-17-4 when they allow the first goal, so getting out to a lead first will be important against a struggling Lightning team looking for signs of life.

2. Will the floodgates open for Jonathan Toews?

After a four-point game in a 4-2 win over Vancouver, the Blackhawks captain matched his point total over his previous nine games. He's up to 26 points on the season, which is now fifth among Chicago forwards. When Toews has offensive droughts, they usually last longer than they should. But when he gets hot, he gets extremely hot. Perhaps we'll see the floodgates open offensively.

3. A chance for the team lead in scoring.

With an empty-net goal on Sunday, Marian Hossa tied Artem Anisimov for the team-lead with 18 goals. Artemi Panarin is right behind with 17, and Patrick Kane isn't far either at 15. The Blackhawks had four 20-goal scorers last season, and haven't had more than that since the 2013-14 season. They're definitely on pace to hit four, but could they surprass that? Richard Panik, who scored another goal Sunday as well, is fifth with 11 goals while Ryan Hartman has 10. Toews is at eight, but a flurry after a drought could make things interesting.

4. The triplets reunited?

In an effort to jumpstart a struggling offense, Lightning coach Jon Cooper reunited the triplets line of Tyler Johnson, Nikita Kucherov and Ondrej Palat that was so successful during their 2015 playoff run in their latest game, a 5-3 loss to Arizona. It's unclear whether they will begin tonight's game on the same line, but if not, it's worth watching throughout the game whether they do. The Blackhawks have been coming at opponents in waves lately, so Cooper could look to separate the three to distribute the scoring.

5. Take advantage on special teams.

The Lightning have racked up the fifth-most penalty minutes in the league, and own a bottom-10 penalty kill unit at 80.1 percent. The Blackhawks are the second-least penalized team, and have converted on 17.9 percent of their power plays, which sits at 16th. But they haven't scored one on the man advantage in five straight games, going 0-for-9 during that span. Here's a chance to change that.

[SHOP: Gear up, Blackhawks fans!]

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