Chicago Cubs

Starlin Castro feels right at home in Chicago

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Starlin Castro feels right at home in Chicago

Saturday, Sept. 17, 2011Posted: 4:40 p.m.

By Patrick Mooney
CSNChicago.com Cubs Insider Follow @CSNMooney
Starlin Castros not exactly sure who wrote HOF in black ink across his white Air Jordan headband, though he has a good idea. With his black, curly hair sticking out, it doesnt make him look any older. Its almost goofy as he sits in front of a laptop watching video of his at-bats.

The Hall of Fame inscription was a joke, a sign that they like to mess around with the 21-year-old prodigy in the clubhouse. But theres no doubt that the Cubs shortstop is thinking big.

As Castro closes in on 200 hits he was only six away after Saturdays 2-1 win over the Houston Astros he has enough sense of the moment that he would like to do it at Wrigley Field. As the seasons final homestand comes to a close, you are watching the future, the new face of the franchise.

No one expects Carlos Zambrano who took up so much oxygen in the room to pitch for this team again. Kerry Wood and Ryan Dempster will each turn 35 next year.

Aramis Ramirez who has been a huge influence on Castro can elect to become a free agent at seasons end. Alfonso Soriano who let Castro stay at his place last season could be unloaded this winter if the Cubs are willing to write off a huge amount of money.

Sorianos 136 million contract has become a symbol of the old way of doing business, a public-service announcement warning against the megadeal. Castro is the homegrown shortstop out of the Dominican Republic, where the Cubs will attach his image to a new academy.

Before coming here, Castro knew almost nothing about Chicago. He had heard all about the cold weather. As a kid, he watched Michael Jordan on television (amazing). Now hes found one Dominican restaurant where he can get home-cooking, and hes taken care of at his favorite steakhouse downtown.

I love this city, Castro said. The people are nice. (They) dont bother you. (But) they recognize me, more right now than last year. Everywhere I go, everybody knows me: Oh, its Starlin Castro.

Castro doubled off the ivy in left on Saturday to reach base for the 30th consecutive game. The last Cubs shortstop to do that was Ernie Banks in 1960. Castro will finish this season with around 350 career hits, all before his 22nd birthday.

If youre in the same conversation as Ernie Banks, I dont think I can embellish on that at all, manager Mike Quade said. Hes done a great job offensively all year. Its really something to see a kid that young so accomplished at this point in his career.

Whats next for an encore?

Every time I go into the season Im trying to do 200 hits and make the All-Star Game, Castro said before smiling. Like Ichiro.

Castros so driven that he slammed his bat and helmet to the ground on Saturday after striking out swinging to end the second inning. His increasing grasp of the English language was accelerated by watching ESPN and MLB Network highlights. He has an understanding of the sports history, and his place within it.

I respect everybody in the game, Castro said. Sometimes I look at another guy thats older than me and say, Oh, I want to be like this guy in the future. You know, he hits like .330, 30 homers, 100 RBI, something like that. I think about (what) I want to be one (day).

That power and the marketing opportunities that will come along with it should be the next frontier of his game. Once those line drives start soaring into the seats, Soriano is not alone in thinking that Castro will be a .300 hitter with 20-plus homers annually.

Castros parents, who lived with him this summer, have gone back to the Dominican Republic. One younger brother went home along with them, while another remained in Chicago.

Castro does not own this city yet. But across the next decade, it wouldnt be surprising to see the next generation wearing the jerseys of Castro, Derrick Rose, Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane.

Soon Castro will return home to Monte Cristi, where everyone knows his name. Hall of Fame pitcher Juan Marichal is the only other All-Star from that small city that Castro can recall.

After these final 10 games, Castro will chill at home and rest for two or three weeks. He hasnt decided whether or not hes going to play winter ball. Cooperstown or not, hes shown no signs of slowing down yet.

I feel ready to finish strong, Castro said. Sometimes (Im mentally) a little tired. But I keep going. I keep working.

Patrick Mooney is CSNChicago.com's Cubs beat writer. Follow Patrick on Twitter @CSNMooney for up-to-the-minute Cubs news and views.

SportsTalk Live Podcast: Does Joe Maddon deserve criticism for his late-game decisions?

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SportsTalk Live Podcast: Does Joe Maddon deserve criticism for his late-game decisions?

Adam Jahns (Chicago Sun-Times), Danny Parkins (670 The Score) and Ben Finfer (ESPN 1000) join Kap on the panel.  The Cubs manage just a single run after scoring 15 the night before.  Does Joe Maddon deserve criticism for his late-game decisions? 

Everybody is fired up about Mitch Trubisky except for Mitch Trubisky. When will the hype become reality and he gets the starting nod?

Plus Dwyane Wade is reportedly set to accept a buyout and Jerry Reinsdorf wouldn’t hire Ozzie Guillen to be his manager ever again.

Listen to the full epidsode here

Kyle Schwarber is learning to trust himself again at the plate

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USA TODAY

Kyle Schwarber is learning to trust himself again at the plate

Baseball people talk all the time about how humbling the game is and how important confidence is.

After all, 90 percent of the game is half mental, right?

While Carl Edwards Jr. gets his confidence back on the mound, Kyle Schwarber is trying to get back into a groove in the batter's box.

Schwarber struck out in eight straight trips to the plate starting Saturday in Arizona and ending Monday night at Wrigley Field. But since then, he's reached base safely in five straight plate appearances and has swung and missed only once in that time.

One of those at-bats was a clutch single to lead off the ninth inning Tuesday night off Reds closer Raisel Iglesias. Schwarber took a pair of strikes (one of which was beneath the strike zone) but then fouled off three pitches before singling into right field on the ninth pitch of the matchup.

"Really good at-bat," Cubs manager Joe Maddon said. "He was choking up pretty fiercly right there. Much shorter approach to the ball. He looked really good. ... Good for him."

The Cubs' ninth-inning rally fell short, but Schwarber scored his team's only run of the game and got to head home with some validation for all the work he's been putting in.

"In that spot, you have to shorten up and either force a walk or put the ball in play," Schwarber said. "You don't want to strike out there to lead off the inning when you're down by two. If you get on base, someone can put the ball out of the ballpark.

"I'm just trying to simplify things down, especially when it gets to two strikes."

One of the main things Schwarber has been focusing in is not expanding the strike zone, which he hasn't done since that eighth strikeout in a row. Sure, it's a small sample size, but a slumping hitter has to start somewhere and the young slugger now has results he can point to.

Schwarber has seen 31 pitches over those five trips to the plate, walking once, getting hit by a pitch twice and lining two singles through the shift on the right side of the infield.

Don't look now, but his average is nearing .200 (.196) while he's posted a .256/.356/.556 (.911 OPS) slash line in 31 games since being recalled from Triple-A Iowa on July 6.

He does have 39 strikeouts in that span, but he also has drawn 12 walks and clubbed 12 extra-base hits, including seven homers.

"It's just fine-tuning," he said. "Just trusting yourself, trusting that you're gonna lay off a pitch in the dirt."

This is the guy who didn't see a live pitch in more than six months last year and then returned on the biggest stage to mash and work tough at-bats against the likes of Corey Kluber and Andrew Miller.

Yet somehow this same dude has lost his confidence and his mojo and has been searching for it almost all year. 

He's trying not to let the bad times build up, attempting to leave poor results in the past.

"You just gotta go at-bat by at-bat," Schwarber said. "You think about that at-bat the next inning, but whenever that inning's over, it's a whole new ballgame, a whole new at-bat."

Strikeouts are gonna happen. That's always been a part of Schwarber's game, but it's also a part of today's game.

Whiffs are up all across the league. Aaron Judge has struck out the second-most times in baseball and has whiffed in 32 straight games, but he's also leading the AL in homers, walks, runs, slugging percentage, OPS and is a legitimate MVP candidate.

Guys like Joey Votto and Anthony Rizzo — who choke up with two strikes consistently and actually walk more than they whiff — are a dying breed.

Strikeouts are viewed differently nowadays. The Tampa Bay Rays have told their players to specifically not shorten up with two strikes this season, looking to take big hacks in every count.

Schwarber can't strike out in eight straight appearances each week, of course, but he can still be a very effective hitter in this Cubs lineup even if he doesn't morph into the next coming of Tony Gwynn.

"Javy [Baez] struck out five times in one game and he's done pretty well since then," Maddon said. "We have a lot of faith in Schwarbs."