Steve Stone's mailbag: Can Castro win ROY?

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Steve Stone's mailbag: Can Castro win ROY?

Tuesday, Sept. 7, 2010
12:36 PM

Steve Stone dives into his mailbag to answer your questions about Starlin Castro's Rookie of the Year chances, the effect of Manny Ramirez' presence and more!

Tom, Chicago -- Does Starlin Castro have a good shot at Rookie of the Year? Or do you think he has to win the batting title to achieve that?

Steve Stone: I think Jason Heyward from Atlanta has the best shot of winning. Heyward plays for a first place team, has been hitting towards the top of the order and has displayed lots of power. With his batting average in the .280's and the defense he presents, that could be a problem for Castro. As far as winning the batting title, Castro has to pick up 23 points over Carlos Gonzalez of Colorado who is hitting .340, while Castro sits at .317. I don't think that will happen but it doesn't diminish what Castro has done. He is going to be a terrific player, especially if he starts to remember how many outs are in an inning. Right now he is benched by Mike Quade, which I think is a good thing because it will hit home and show Castro what is expected in the major leagues.

That being said, there are some other great rookies out there that are going to be in the running. Just in the National League, one of the guys coming to mind is Gaby Sanchez; not sure if he still qualifies as a rookie but he is having a great season. Competition this year is pretty stiff; don't forget Buster Posey of the re-surging Giants. He is hitting .326 and the Giants' offensive resurgence as well as their knocking at the door of first place could be directly related to Posey becoming an every day player. It appears there are some exceptional young talents in the majors already and certainly on the horizon. This may be tough for Castro, I don't think he will make rookie of the year but you never know.

Ronnie, Westmont, IL -- Ted Lilly always impressed me during his time with the Cubs, do you think there is a chance that they bring him back next season as a free agent?

Steve Stone: I think the Cubs are going to reduce a bit. If you could tell me that the Cubs would be able to trade Zambrano, Fukudome, or Silva without eating too much money, then I would tell you that, yes, there is a good chance they may go after Ted. I think Lilly will be looking for a multi-year contract and wont find that with the Cubs.

Trace, Santa Barbara, CA -- Is Manny Ramirez's presence in the White Sox lineup enough to push the team past the Twins and into the playoffs?

Steve Stone: I think Manny's presence is a good thing. I don't think he can hurt your ball club at all for a month. I would like to see him get a base hit to drive in a run, which he has not done yet. He is hitting unbelievably well; Manny has always been a clutch player. I don't think the Sox have the Manny that hit .349 (in 2002), but I don't think it hurts at all. The Sox are just looking for him to drive in some runs and occasionally hit it out the ball park; which should be easy in US Cellular. With the philosophy that Manny cant hurt, I think it was a pretty good addition to the baseball team and now we will see if he can generate some run production and some power.

Pat, Highland, Ind. -- Do you think Chris Sale has the stuff to be the White Sox closer next season?

Steve Stone: I don't think he will be the closer next season. He does have the stuff to be a closer but he has always been a starting pitcher and there is no reason to think he can't be a starter at the big league level. It would be very difficult to have both your premiere setup man and your closer to be lefty. Sale is too young to put a designated tag on what he will be. Sometimes it comes down to where the ball club needs him. If you count on Peavy coming back and Garcia, I count 7 starting candidates for next year's rotation, but obviously you will go with 5. Then you go to the idea of trading and it would be a substantial trade because these guys are pretty good. There are some tough questions that have to be answered. A lot depends on dollars that you can spend and what you think you can get in return for some of the talent. If you have the enviable position of having too many starting pitchers, there will be a team that would love to take one off your hands.

Ernie, Chicago -- Who are your picks for Cy Young this season? (Ernie - Chicago, IL)

Steve Stone: The fashionable pick among the sabermetric community is Felix Hernandez of Seattle because he is going to be first or second in strikeouts, first or second in ERA, first or second in quality starts, and most likely first in innings pitched. In looking at those numbers, if the vote were today, and it's not, you would lean towards a guy having a terrific year with a contending baseball team. So I go to a guy leading the league in victories (19-5), who is 5th in ERA (3.02), second in innings pitched, second in quality starts, and will likely strike out 200 men this year. That man is the gigantic CC Sabathia, who will likely be the first major league pitcher to win 20 games this year.

And as long as we are on the subject of Cy Young awards, I will throw in an extra bonus for you and we will talk about the National League, where it really gets tough. When looking at all categories this is one of those years that the victory list doesn't add up all that well with the ERA list. Though you could make a case for Adam Wainwright, you could also make a case for Chris Carpenter or Ubaldo Jiminez who, though the second half of the year has been difficult for him, has still compiled an 18-6 record with a 2.79 ERA.

My Cy Young Vote, which will be decided down to the wire, would be Roy Halladay. Roy is 17-10 with many losses due to lack of support. As of this writing, he leads the National League in strikeouts and, by a wide margin, innings pitched. He is two off the lead in quality starts and has a 2.36 ERA, which before the end of the season may drop even lower. You must also consider the miniature ballpark he plays in, compared to Latos of San Diego, Hudson of Atlanta, Johnson of Florida, and Wainwright and Garcia of St. Louis who all pitch in very pitcher friendly ball parks. Conversely Roy Halladay pitches in home run bay. He has also completed 8 games, which places him number one in a category that everybody seems to have forgotten about.

After locking up homefield advantage, Cubs flummoxed by Cardinals in blowout loss

After locking up homefield advantage, Cubs flummoxed by Cardinals in blowout loss

At the end of the day, a loss means essentially nothing for the Cubs right now.

But the Cubs also certainly don't want to hand games to their division rival as the St. Louis Cardinals make a run at the National League wild card spots.

After the Cubs clinched homefield advantage throughout the NL playoffs with the Washington Nationals' loss Friday night, they had no answer for the Cardinals in a 10-4 loss in front of 40,785 fans at Wrigley Field Saturday afternoon on national TV.

A few disturbing trends popped their heads above ground for the Cubs again Saturday, including the offense's struggles at manufacturing runs, Jason Hammel getting shelled and some bullpen woes.

The Cubs had no trouble putting runners on base against Cardinals phenom Alex Reyes, but they had a tough time plating those guys, cashing in only once with a runner on third base in six tries over the first four innings.

In two of those spots, a Cubs hitter came up with only one out, but failed to bring the run home as Addison Russell struck out in the first inning and Kris Bryant popped out to shallow left in the second.

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Hammel recorded only seven outs and was tagged for six runs on six hits and a walk, watching his season ERA rise nearly 30 points to 3.83. The veteran right-hander fell to 15-10 as he attempts to make a push for one of the Cubs' final postseason roster spots.

"Honestly, I would love to be a part of [the playoff roster], as the rest of the guys on the team would love to," Hammel said. "I know there's only a certain amount of spots, so if I'm handed the ball, I'll be ready. That's the way I'm gonna view it.

"Obviously you wanna be a part of something special like that, but I think everybody here has already been a part of something special to get to this point. We're all very proud. We still got eight regular season ballgames left to build some momentum. Whether I'm on the roster or not, I'm still gonna enjoy it."

Hammel was also clearly on the wrong end of some bad luck Saturday, as the four runs he allowed in the first came via a check swing and a couple hits just out of the reach of his fielders. 

Joe Maddon won't put too much stock into one rough start in late September.

"I'm not too worried about a good or bad outing right now. I'm not," he said. "Pretty much, you know who the guy is. You know if the guy's go this stuff going on or if he doesn't. ... The greater body of work matters."

Setup man Hector Rondon struggled in his appearance, needing 26 pitches to notch just one out, giving up three runs on three hits and a walk before handing the ball off to Felix Pena.

Of course, it's also just one game and one loss for a team with 98 victories and hopes of the World Series.

Rondon had been nearly unhittable since returning from the disabled list two weeks ago and the Cubs offense had been efficient and relentless in the past four games after Maddon's meeting with the hitters earlier in the week.

Maddon also used the blowout to get regulars like Anthony Rizzo, Ben Zobrist, Jason Heyward and Russell out of the lineup to help keep them fresh for October.

After the game, Maddon chose to look on the bright side.

"Our starter had a tough day today; that's it. Otherwise we did some nice things," he said, referencing the solid offensive days from Dexter Fowler and Ben Zobrist. "We had chances to score runs - runners on third, less than two outs - and we didn't fulfill that.

"We made their starter throw 115 pitches in five innings; I think that's a positive."

The Cubs will close out their season series with the Cardinals on another nationally-televised showdown Sunday night between Jon Lester and St. Louis ace Carlos Martinez.

Cubs: Miguel Montero plays 'psychologist' to get the most out of Jake Arrieta

Cubs: Miguel Montero plays 'psychologist' to get the most out of Jake Arrieta

Lost amid the craziness of Friday's game and David Ross' emotional sendoff was Miguel Montero locking up a spot on the Cubs' postseason roster.

It's not official, of course. 

The Cubs don't have to get their National League Division Series 25-man roster until the morning of Oct. 7, Game 1.

But Montero proved his value to the Cubs, even in an 0-for-3 effort offensively.

The veteran catcher has struggled to find consistency at the plate this season, but his work behind the plate has proven invaluable, especially with reigning NL Cy Young winner Jake Arrieta.

Montero helped get Arrieta in rhythm Friday for a dominant performance - 10 strikeouts across seven shutout innings.

It was the first time the two had worked together in a battery since Aug. 12, with Willson Contreras catching Arrieta five times and Ross behind the dish once in that span.

"Quite frankly, I'm not gonna lie - I wanted to see that," Cubs manager Joe Maddon admitted after Friday's game. "Miggy did a great job with him. They were outstanding together."

The proof is in the numbers, too.

With Contreras over those five starts, Arrieta has posted a 4.50 ERA and 1.16 WHIP, averaging 6.4 innings per outing.

In the last six starts with Montero behind the plate, Arrieta has a 1.99 ERA, 0.89 WHIP and is averaging 6.78 innings per outing.

Of course, Montero was also Arrieta's primary catcher for the pitcher's other-worldly run to close out last season.

Maddon believes there's a comfort level there between the two and with the Cubs essentially just biding time until the postseason, now was the time to make a change and see how they worked together again instead of worrying about getting Contreras more experience.

If Arrieta can find consistency pitching at that level, it absolutely gives the Cubs a new look alongside 2016 Cy Young contenders Jon Lester and Kyle Hendricks.

"We work well together," Arrieta said. "I work well with Willson and with Rossy, but Miggy and I have worked together for quite a bit of time now throughout the last couple years. He knows the way my stuff works. 

"He has little nuances, little mannerisms that he makes behind the plate that can help me get back on track from time to time and it's nice to have a guy like that who can really pick things out visually and relay a message to me by something small that helps me get back in line."

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Montero admitted he wasn't even focusing on his at-bats throughout Friday's game, instead putting his full attention on getting Arrieta back on track.

It may only be one outing, but it worked, and Montero deserves credit for getting Arrieta to settle down, stop trying to be too perfect and just unleash his ace stuff.

"We have to be a psychologist. That's our job as a catcher," Montero said. "People don't realize that. People think the catcher needs to throw and hit. No, we need to be a psychologist.

"We need to know who we got out on the mound, how to talk to him, how to go about the business, how to explain to him how to do things. I like psychology a lot and he's one of the guys who you need to push him a little bit harder, and that's me.

"I'm gonna push a guy to the limits, 'cause I know I can get a lot more from him. I know who I can get a lot more from."

Maddon didn't tip his hand about who will pair up with Arrieta next start, but the Cubs don't have to make that decision right now. 

However, with a veteran catcher like Montero around who knows how to call a game and has been heralded as one of the best pitch-framers in baseball during his prime, it'd be hard to leave him off the postseason roster.

In October, the Cubs will place a premium on guys who have been there before and can work in rhythm with a veteran-laden pitching staff and in those areas, Montero has a leg up on rookie Contreras.

Montero handled his reduction in playing time gracefully when Contreras was promoted to the big leagues over the summer, but now, the 33-year-old looks to be reemerging for the Cubs as the "big boy" games loom.

"I don't know if I'm gonna catch [Arrieta] again, but I hope he keeps that momentum going, which I think is a good confidence-builder right there," Montero said. "... My main goal [Friday] was just Jake and just to get him out there and get him to throw a good game and build his confidence again.

"I went 0-for-3, but I don't care. I accomplished my goal - which was to get him to throw a good game and he did."