Last year, the Cubs were 0-79 when trailing in the ninth inning. In the first eight games this season, they’ve already won four games in their last at-bat, including Tuesday’s 9-8 come from behind win over the Pirates.
“Talking with [Chris] Coghlan, [we said] we wouldn’t win that game last year or the year before,” Cubs shortstop Starlin Castro said. “We quit [last year]. If we were losing after seven innings, we quit. Now, we never quit. If we get extra innings, we play hard, we never quit.”
The Cubs scored three runs in the ninth off Pirates closer Mark Melancon, with Castro delivering a two-run single. The Cubs shortstop finished with four RBIs.
“Right now, he is engaged,” Cubs manager Joe Maddon said of Castro. “He is engaged on every pitch offensively and defensively. When he did not get it done early in the game, he was upset with himself. He’s totally invested right now. It’s really fun to watch.”
Castro is batting .352 in the first 13 games, and finally playing for a team with a winning record. The Cubs have finished fifth in his first five seasons in the big leagues.
“This is the time I’ve waited for,” Castro said. “I put in my mind, every day you can’t be good, but you try 100 percent. This is the moment I’ve waited for in my life.”
— Carrie Muskat
Starlin Castro was back in the lineup Wednesday after missing five days because of tightness in his right groin and the Cubs shortstop is eager to play 162 games this season.
Castro, who turned 25 on Tuesday, has not played since March 19 in a game against the Diamondbacks when he made a fielding error that led to two runs. He admitted Wednesday that he hadn’t been feeling good on the field.
“I lost a little bit of confidence those couple days, and I worked on my defense,” Castro said. “[Tuesday], I took some extra ground balls and started feeling better.
“I didn’t feel really good out there on defense,” he said of the game last week. “It’s not a big deal.”
One of his goals is to play all 162 games, but Castro didn’t think he needed to say anything to manager Joe Maddon about that.
“Not yet, but I think they know,” Castro said. “They know I want to play that, I want to be there every day. It doesn’t matter if today is a bad game, tomorrow’s a bad game, I don’t care. I’m here, trying to grow up every day and try to be a better player.”
He’s also looking forward to the start of the regular season, even if Wrigley Field won’t quite be ready.
“We’re feeling pretty good we’re starting a new season with new people here,” Castro said. “I think it’ll be really exciting. We don’t have bleachers but it doesn’t matter. We’ll have a new scoreboard — I think it’s going to be really happy.”
— Carrie Muskat
Starlin Castro is back in the Cubs lineup Wednesday for a night game against the Mariners in Peoria, Ariz. Travis Wood gets the start and will bat eighth. Castro was sidelined because of tightness in his right groin. Here’s the lineup:
La Stella 3B
— Carrie Muskat
* After starting Cactus League play 0-6-1, the Cubs are 8-3 in their last 11 games (9-11-1 overall).
* The Cubs have hit 29 home runs this spring, second-most in the Majors behind the Dodgers, who have belted 33. The Cubs have eight home runs in the last three games.
* Kris Bryant leads the Majors with eight home runs and 38 total bases while his 14 RBI are tied for the big league lead with the White Sox Alexei Ramirez and Marlins Michael Morse. Bryant is hitting .480 (12-for-25) with a 1.520 slugging mark and a .552 on-base percentage this spring.
* Welington Castillo is hitting .375 (9-for-24) with three doubles, two homers, seven RBI and a 1.194 OPS this spring. Tommy La Stella is hitting .471 (8-for-17) in his last six games. Jorge Soler has reached safely in 10 of his 11 games. Soler is hitting .364 (12-for-33) with a .382 on-base percentage and a .636 slugging mark.
* Starlin Castro celebrates his 25th birthday today. Since making his Major League debut, May 7, 2010, Castro’s 846 hits rank seventh-most in the Majors. Miguel Cabrera leads with 924 hits.
Starlin Castro was scratched from the Cubs’ lineup Saturday because of a tight right groin. His status is day to day. Castro was batting .231 this spring. He was to be replaced in the lineup by Addison Russell.
— Carrie Muskat
Starlin Castro is prepared to carry the Cubs on his back. The Cubs shortstop literally did just that in preparation for the season. One of the drills strength coach Tim Buss had Castro do to strengthen his legs was carry 210-pound teammate Mike Olt on his back, and run forwards and backwards.
“I did some things I’ve never done in my life,” Castro said. “It really makes you tired at the moment but after that, a few days later, you feel good.”
The Cubs are counting on Castro, who finished last season on the disabled list because of a high ankle sprain. He’s had hamstring problems the last two springs, which is why the emphasis on leg work prior to the start of camp. The first full squad workout will be Wednesday.
The Cubs need a repeat of last season from Castro, who batted .292 and matched his career high with 14 home runs. Manager Joe Maddon has yet to figure out where the shortstop will be in the lineup, preferring to study the numbers and talk to Castro.
“Wherever they put me, I’ll try to do my job,” said Castro, who has batted everywhere in the lineup. “The only thing I like is if he puts me six, seven, leave me there. I like one spot and that’s it.”
What Castro also is hoping for is a winning season, which would be his first since he was called up to the big leagues in 2010. The Cubs have finished in fifth place the last five seasons.
“It’s been tough, but this year will be my first time,” Castro said, confidently.
— Carrie Muskat
* Starlin Castro says he was in the “wrong place at the wrong time” regarding two shooting incidents in the Dominican Republic in December and the Cubs shortstop will likely move his family to the United States. Castro, 24, has relocated to Arizona to get a head start on preparing for the 2015 season at the Cubs complex in Mesa. Theo Epstein talked to Castro immediately after both incidents.
“The most important thing is that Starlin has responded to this adversity really well,” Epstein said Friday prior to the opening ceremonies at the Cubs Convention. “He’s taken a mature approach and figured out he needed to make some changes, he needed to change his environment to put himself in the best position to A, keep him and his family safe, and B, to prepare the right way for the season to win a championship. He made a not insignificant step to move to Arizona and start his training early, and I was proud of the way he responded to a difficult situation.”
The move to Arizona isn’t full time, Castro said, and he’s still considering his options.
“I’ve got to move,” Castro said. “I’ve got to do something that doesn’t create negative things. I’m not that kind of person.”
— Carrie Muskat
Starlin Castro was questioned about a shooting outside a nightclub in the Dominican Republic and the Cubs shortstop was cleared of any involvement in the incident, his agent said. Paul Kinzer, who represents Castro, told the Chicago Tribune on Saturday that Castro was not involved in the incident.
“Starlin was not arrested or detained or anything,” Kinzer told the Tribune. “He went to the police station to make sure they knew he was not involved. They told him they had video so they knew he was not involved.”
According to the Dominican newspaper El Caribe, six people were injured Friday night in a shooting in Monte Cristi, which is Castro’s hometown. The newspaper said Castro, 24, was arrested but Kinzer said that report was incorrect.
Three weeks ago, Castro was questioned after a shooting at a concert in the Dominican Republic and was cleared of any involvement, Kinzer said.
Castro was expected to leave the Dominican the first week of January before reporting to Spring Training in February, Kinzer said.
— Carrie Muskat
The emphasis in the first three seasons under Theo Epstein has been to restock the Minor League system and build a foundation of impact players. In 2015, Epstein feels the Cubs will take a major step and not just develop players, but be competitive.
“I think we’ve proved we can be very competitive in this division and when you have a chance to compete, you should set your sights high and that means our goal is the [National League] Central title next year,” Epstein said Tuesday.
Here are some highlights from a 40-minute media session at Wrigley Field:
* The Cubs will be looking for impact talent via free agency but Epstein cautioned that any deal has to make sense and they will not “sell out just for 2015.” Among the needs are another starting pitcher, a left-handed reliever, and outfield help. The next 15 months will be key in terms of player acquisitions, he said. That time frame includes this coming offseason, the next Trade Deadline, and next offseason.
* They are aware that some of the young talent still needs time, such as Javier Baez, who batted .169 with 95 strikeouts in 52 games after he was called up Aug. 5. Baez is expected to be the Cubs’ Opening Day second baseman, Epstein said. He’s a perfect example of the theme Epstein projected for 2015.
“We’re being open about the fact that we’re here to compete and our goal is to win the [division] title, but at the same time we’re not going to bail on our young players, we’re not going to abandon our vision,” he said. “We just have to make the tough decisions and strike that balance the right way.”
* Epstein admitted Renteria had some limitations with the roster, such as relievers who were restricted because of past injuries and youngsters without much experience. But the manager did fulfill many of the criteria laid out for him, such as developing a positive attitude, setting a good tone for the players and getting them to play hard.
“He established an environment where our young players could continue to grow and feel support, and where they could learn how to be big leaguers, and where they could learn how to win,” Epstein said.
* Neil Ramirez and Justin Grimm will stay in the bullpen for 2015, and not be considered for the rotation.
* The Cubs have not made as much improvement in terms of on-base percentage as Epstein would like.
“Frankly, it’s one of the areas where we haven’t had a lot of success,” he said.
* Epstein’s feelings on the Cardinals? He says: “How do you balance admiration and contempt? I’m a Cub, so I have to hate the Cardinals, but I also admire the way they run their baseball shop. They’re really consistent, they make good decisions, all the way back to George Kissell. They teach the game the right way, they stay true to the vision of how to play Cardinal baseball. In some respects, and I hate to say this on the record, but we have to do a lot of things that they do to be successful. On the other hand, I think we’re building something that has a chance to go toe to toe with them and surpass them. I think we have a chance to win this division and win it on a consistent basis, and we’re going to need to beat them to win the World Series.”
He feels the NL Central is becoming a powerhouse. When Epstein first joined the Cubs in October 2011, he thought the NL Central would be a little easier than the AL East.
“I was dead wrong,” Epstein said. “If you look forward over the next five years, or so, I think this has a chance to be the most competitive and best division in baseball. When you have the talent to compete you should set your sights high.”
— Carrie Muskat
CSNChicago.com’s Patrick Mooney compiled a “Year in Cubs Quotes,” which summed up some of the highs and lows of the 2014 season. Here are excerpts:
* “It’s as peaceful as I’ve ever been as a person.” — Rick Renteria, the 53rd manager in franchise history, at the opening of spring training, Feb. 13.
* “You guys are going to crown them the next Babe Ruth.” — first baseman Anthony Rizzo, responding to reporters asking about all the prospects, Feb. 18.
* “Just be myself. Be me. My mind’s clean and ready to play hard.” — shortstop Starlin Castro, promising to return to an All-Star level, Feb. 19.
* “It sucks for the person who parked there. They’re parking too close to the field.” — mega-prospect Javier Baez, after shattering a car window with a batting-practice bomb at Cubs Park, Feb. 21.
* “(Baez) doesn’t care. He’s like: ‘Oh, cool.’ Not cool for whoever’s car it was, I guess.” — eyewitness Logan Watkins, Feb. 21.
* “Losing sucks.” — Theo Epstein, after a reporter asked if winning is “overemphasized” in professional sports, April 22.
* “I was pretty hungry for that one.” — Jeff Samardzija, after allowing one unearned run in nine innings and throwing 126 pitches during a 12-inning loss to the White Sox, May 5.
* “I do believe in second chances. I do believe in redemption. I do believe that Manny has turned his life around for the better in the last couple of years.” — Epstein, stunning the baseball world by signing Manny Ramirez to a minor-league deal as a player/coach for Triple-A Iowa, May 25.
* “I got some goose bumps there. That’s kind of why you play this game, for moments like that.” — Jake Arrieta, after being four outs away from a no-hitter against the Red Sox and getting a standing ovation at Fenway Park, June 30.
* “We shared a beer and a cigarette and sent him on his way. It’s just tough to see your boys leave.” — James Russell’s farewell to Samardzija, July 5.
* “We certainly hope that this is the last year that we’ll be obvious sellers at the trade deadline.” — Epstein, July 5.
* “I got beer. I got chocolate milk. I got hair gel. I got shampoo. I got body wash. And then I got some more beer. It was great. Best shower I’ve ever taken.” — catcher John Baker, after pitching the 16th inning and scoring the game-winning run to beat the Rockies in the longest game in franchise history, July 29-30.
* “I was like: ‘Are you serious?’ And then I realized I was really going to the big leagues. I got really excited. I called my mom, told my brother and everybody started jumping around and crying.” — Javier Baez, before debuting at Coors Field and hitting the game-winning homer against the Rockies, Aug. 5.
* “The best thing to happen to the whole city of Chicago this summer — certainly from a baseball standpoint — was put together by 13-, 12-year-old kids from the South Side. At industry meetings, in lots of front offices around the game, people talk about (it). People ask the question: How can we get young kids playing baseball again, especially in cities, especially in the inner-city? There’s nothing that a bunch of suits in a boardroom can do that would be as powerful as what those 12-year-old kids did to demonstrate how compelling the game of baseball can be, make baseball cool again for young kids.” — Epstein, on the Jackie Robinson West team that won a national title at the Little League World Series, Aug. 27.
* “We’re just waiting for Bryant now.” — Baez, after Jorge Soler hit two homers to beat the Cardinals in St. Louis, Aug. 29.
* “To be the NL Central champs … that’s the message we’re going to send.” — Rizzo’s expectations for next year’s team, Sept. 28.