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Persistence conquers all. Thoughts on Castro, Maddon, and the Cubs never say die attitude

Persistence conquers all. Thoughts on Castro, Maddon, and the Cubs never say die attitude
The talented Castro is now adding some grind...and a little swagger, to his game.

Energy and persistence conquer all things.

- Benjamin Franklin

In the case of the Cubs last night, energy and persistence conquered a poor middle relief performance, Joe West's ego, and a few youthful aggressive mistakes.  As the mature beyond his years Addison Russell observed,

"They played this game just like little kids -- they had fun," Russell said. "I'm happy to be part of it."

You'll take the aggressive mistakes.  Make the other team make a play and if they do, you tip your cap.  These Cubs aren't sitting around and waiting for things to happen.  They're making it happen.

That is a testament to their manager Joe Maddon, who has this team playing aggressively and believing they can win.  Carrie Muskat wrote on that subject yesterday.

"Talking with [Chris] Coghlan, [we said] we wouldn't win that game last year or the year before,"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."

To hear Castro talk that way is what people in the industry have been waiting for since he burst on the scene as a just-turned 20 year old prodigy in 2010.  Nobody ever questioned the talent.  One scout once told me he had Hanley Ramirez-type talent and the only thing holding him back was the mental part of the game.

Suddenly, something seems to have clicked with Castro.  Maybe it's the threat of Addison Russell behind him.  Maybe it's the focus that comes with being on a team that expects to win.  Whatever it is, Castro seems to understand the time is now.

"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."

Maybe, just maybe, it also has something to do with Joe Maddon himself.  Castro has played under several different managers.  Castro was no doubt an immature 20 year old but, starting with the worn down, increasingly  indifferent Lou Piniella and on to the mixed messages of Mike Quade and Dale Sveum, I don't think he ever got the support, communication style and instruction he so desperately needed.  Rick Renteria seemed to reach him last year to a degree, but it may have taken the wake-up calls this offseason to really get him focused.  And Maddon has been the perfect manager to ride that wave and take him to the next level.   He has been very impressed with what he has seen so far.

"Right now, he is engaged. 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."

Looking back at Quade and especially Sveum, they had the right idea.  They weren't necessarily wrong about Castro's need to focus, or to grow up on and off the field.  What they were unable to do was successfully communicate that with him.  They went from one extreme -- trying to force him there with so-called tough love that often boiled over into public frustration, to throwing their hands in the air and doing nothing about it at all.

In contrast, Maddon seems to have a knack for guiding Castro where he needs to be rather than either trying to shove him there or letting him meander on his own.

That is the genius of Maddon's communication style.   That is why he is such a good teacher.  He helps you get there in such a subtle way, in a way that feels like you're doing it all on your own.  It's a managing style that gets players taking ownership for their own development.  That is how you get players fully invested in themselves -- and by extension, the team as well.

It isn't just Castro.  His dramatic change simply illustrates the impact of Maddon's style better than any other player.  Castro is sort of a barometer that measures the effectiveness of a manager's communication style.  He is the gifted but somewhat lost student that's hard to reach and Maddon is that special teacher who gives him direction and lets him find his own way.

Like Castro, Anthony Rizzo has endured the length of what has often been a frustrating rebuilding process.  We talked earlier about how the Cubs are starting to believe in themselves, on how the front office has carefully crafted a culture that encourages trust in themselves and in their teammates. Now, Rizzo is seeing the results of that slow but persistent process to change that losing culture that pervaded the clubhouse.  The desired team-oriented culture -- and the confidence and trust that goes with it, are finally beginning to take hold.

"The strength of our lineup is that we believe anyone can do it at any time," Rizzo said. "We're really happy with the way we're grinding out at-bats early. We're making pitchers work -- that's what we want to do every time, every at-bat be stressful for the pitcher."

Or as Castro put it...

"When I saw Rizzo get on base and the double by Soler, I said, 'That guy has no chance with us today.'"

How's that for confidence and trust?  How's that for swagger?

But words mean nothing if you can't back them up.  Last night, the Cubs did just that...again.  This one, though, seemed a bit more special.

"That's the best (rally) I've been a part of", said Rizzo. "Coming back like that, seesawing back and forth all game -- this is what we do, we don't quit."

These Cubs believe.  They have learned to grind to the end, that the value of persistence is the best way to enhance their already prodigious young talent.

And, as the Cubs are starting to find out, that combination may just be enough to conquer all.

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  • There's definitely some formerly missing 'It' factor with this year's team,....

    And I think Castro has 'it'. A few years ago - when he first came into the league, there was significant talk about him being a potential batting average 'champ',...

    Looks like he might have a chance at that - if he can just keep doing what it is he has been doing. Also think that the time at Cleanup Hitter last season was good for him - in that he has now had some significant time batting in the order where he has had the opportunity to feel the pressure of being expected to drive in some runs.

  • In reply to drkazmd65:

    The cool thing is, I am not even sure if Castro cares about a batting title anymore. I think he'll take getting one hit instead of 4 if that one hit helps the team win. That is part of the change I think we're seeing in him.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    Agreed John. And I don't think it hurts his, or anybody elses' egos that Castro is not "the Guy" on this team.

    He's like 25,... he's getting to be a 'crafty veteran',.... and it's the first really potentially good team he has had a chance to play on,....

    In his place - I would be loving it too. The personal goals would be a sidelight to just the fun of winning more often than not. And the winning and playing well is one of the few things that would definitely shut the 'Trade that Loser Castro!' crowd down.

    Notice how quiet they are being so far this season.

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    In reply to drkazmd65:

    I have not been a Castro apologist by any stretch of the imagination. His lack of focus, from someone so physically gifted, has been infuriating. I'm glad he is shutting me up. About damn time. Some guys just take longer to get it than others. Well done Starlin.

  • In reply to Aggravated Battery:

    I think a balance was missing. Those of us who have supported Castro weren't naive to the point of missing the mental errors and lack of focus, but I think sometimes that was piled on to the extreme and to me, the natural reaction for some supporters was to push back back in the other extreme and say that he was just fine as he was. A solid player despite the flaws, yes, but everyone knew he could be a lot better.

    Obviously, as you pretty much alluded to, the answer has always been somewhere in between. He had talent and he did not always make the best of it. I think trying to force or rush it out of him wasn't ever going to work. Castro had to get there on his own -- and with the right combo of circumstances -- the wake-up calls. the hiring of Maddon, and winning baseball, he seems to be finding his way and finally making the most of his natural gifts.

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    In reply to John Arguello:

    John said, "I think trying to force or rush it out of him wasn't ever going to work. Castro had to get there on his own -- and with the right combo of circumstances..."

    Correct, guys as mature as Bryant don't grow on trees. Most of us can only figure something out as we experience it. I'm extremely happy for Castro, the Cubs and us!

    He's aggressively charging ground balls! Holy crap! Love it.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    well said

  • In reply to Aggravated Battery:

    He likely needed a leader of some sort. Castro nev er truly had a "role model" when he came up, tells you a lot when Soriano came the closest. Now you have Madden, vets like Montero, Ross, Lester, Fowler and Motte. Together with elite young talent makes for a great mix. Ive said before, the 15 Cubs have all ther trademarks of the 1994 Indians, and the talent to be the 1995 Indians. Just hope they take the final steps those Indians teams never took.

  • In reply to Aggravated Battery:

    I've never been a 'Castro apologist' either AB,.... as his lack of focus has always been somewhat baffling,.... until I realize at his age (under 25) I was probably just as infuriating/frustrating to those around me in my chosen field (science nerd & educator) who saw potential in me as he has been to many Cubs fans these last several years.

    I was just among the crowd that saw the potential there, and the inklings of progress being made toward maturity, and wasn't quite ready to cut bait with him.

    He'll never be 'Ozzie Smith' in the field defensively. But he could easily be a league average or better defensive SS, with a better than average offensive output. Nothing to sneeze at.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    Agreed. He's the consummate team player.

  • In reply to TheThinBlueLine:

    ...but still not good enough for Mets fans.

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    Something has sure clicked with Castro. I have been more than vocal about my desire to trade Castro. It was based not so much on a dislike for Castro but what I thought he could bring back in return. But this Winter showed that the rest of the league didn't think his value was as high as most of us believed it to be. The whole league has to be talking now.

    I also love the fire in Castro right now. He has become more of a leader as many of these young infielders are looking to him for guidance. I always knew Castro had the bat skills but it's his defensive play right now that has me really taking notice.

    It's just fun to watch him right now and I can admit that maybe I was too quick to judgement about Castro reaching his ceiling. This guy we have at SS is something special!

  • In reply to bocabobby:

    This version of Castro is indeed special, the player we've all been waiting (and hoping) to see. If this really is the new Castro, then they need to think long and hard about trading him or even moving him off of SS. I, for one, want to see him stay a Cub as long as he continues to play as he has this season.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    He is finally starting to put it all together. As good as he is, he'll likely still get a little better....

    And I dont think it had anything to do with Russell. If that was the case, Baez would've motivated the beegiebies out of him last year. I credit the overall talent and culture of the team and JOE MADDON. He seemed to really connect with Baez too.

  • In reply to HoosierDaddy:

    I don't think that Castro's problem was lack of focus. Or rather, his lack of focus was caused by extreme confusion, rather than a lack of interest.

    Castro was a kid with little education, even in baseball. He had great potential because he had a natural flair for baseball, and was able to succeed without any training in the sport. Everything he did came naturally, and he succeeded without having to think about what he was doing.

    It got him to the big leagues.

    Even there, he mostly succeeded in what he tried to do. But for the first time, he was confronted by people who wanted him to be even better, and offered constant advice and criticism in an effort to help. But for the first time, that meant that he had to think about what he was doing, rather than merely reacting.

    "Lay the ball down in front of the bag, and let the runner just slide into it, rather than swipe tag." Then he ran into Juan Pierre who made him look foolish.

    "Take pitches that you aren't likely to hit well" Then he was called out by West and his like.

    "Hit to the opposite field".

    "Elevate your swing."

    "Charge the ball rather than wait for it to come to you".

    "Look the ball into your glove".

    "Change your footwork around the bag"

    The list went on and on. Much of it was great advice. But it gave him too much to think about, and caused him to lose confidence in his talent. Under Sveum, everyone in sight was giving him advice, much of which was contradictory. In my opinion, he just lost it.

    He is now playing much more instinctually, and a lot of it is due to Maddon. But as much of his improvement came after the first couple of months of 2014 under Renteria. After a horrible start, both his offense and his defense came around last year, with Renteria offering support rather than constant advice.

    I think the future for Castro is extremely bright, as he seems at a point where he can actually implement some of the advice that so confused him a couple of years ago. Advice that he can not put into practice without thinking about it.

    And, by the way, Maddon seems to be ready to use the same philosophy on Baez. Will it work? Who knows? But if it does, look out.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    Trying to understand this:

    "Castro is indeed special" = "trade him or move him off SS"

    I love what I'm seeing from him this year (did anyone see the post-game high fives? He is clearly an energetic leader for this team) and don't want to see him on another team.

  • In reply to IThrewSomeRocks:

    And how excited he got when Fowler made that catch to lead off the bottom of the ninth.

  • In reply to pje319:

    I thought that maybe I was the only one who noticed Castro jumping up and down like a little kid when Fowler made that catch. Just like a little kid. He just wants to win and being with a team that can win more than they lose has brought out the best him.

    Keep it up Starlin I never doubted that you had it in you!

  • In reply to cubbybear7753:

    Sort of off topic but has anyone noticed so far Fowler does not seem to be the defensive liability he was tagged with when the cubs traded for him?

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    In reply to stix:

    Def not a liability, but he hasn't been too good either. Cubs defensive setups have helped as well plus playing in smaller parks w out a weird slope

    We haven't seen his arm much yet though

  • In reply to IThrewSomeRocks:

    No way you trade Castro now. Team-friendly contract, pl;aying at an elite level, becoming a team leader-everything a WINNING team needs.

  • In reply to IThrewSomeRocks:

    He said they would need to " think long and hard about trading him or even moving him off of SS. It means you and him agree.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    Tonight will be an interesting test on how much he's progressed. Worley has been a really tough matchup for him. (8AB's and 6 K's)

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    Great article as usual, John!

    It really is great to see Castro stepping it up. Seems like the combination of a manager in Maddon who knows how to communicate with him, the expectations of winning and his maturation as a player (remember he is still just 25 years old!) is resulting in the player that everyone has been looking for. Plus, he no longer carries the weight of being one of the two most feared bats in the order. He is now positioned to be more of a silent assassin.

    While it's early, it's also nice to see the Cubs beating both the Reds and the Pirates. That hasn't been happening in recent years and is necessary for us to contend for a playoff spot.

  • In reply to KC3772:

    Thank you and good point on beating up on division rivals. I am actually looking forward to them going up against the Cardinals now.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    I haven’t done the research yet but it seems like in seasons the Cubs do well against the Pirates, they have a successful season. If they struggle with the Pirates, they don’t. So let’s take (at least) 3 of 4 and keep the good vibes flowing.

    Conversely the record vs the Cardinals is pretty consistent year to year whether the Cubs are good or not.

  • In reply to Ed Vajcner:

    I don't have the numbers too, but it has always seemed that way to me too.

  • In reply to Ed Vajcner:

    Cubs were 5-14 last year VS Pitts. Nice that we are putting them in the pits for a change. The Yardbirds day is coming where theyll be on the wrong end of a few Cubbie buttkickings. "Better get used to it".

  • In reply to KC3772:

    I think the factor of at least thee additional big bats in the lineup has helped all of them. In the past, if Castro and Rizzo didn't do it, it wouldn't get done. Now there's a mini murderers row in Rizzo, Soler, Bryant, and Castro. A pitcher might get through that lineup once or even twice, but no way a third time. The pressure is off one of them to do it all. And if Russell steps up like I think he will, everybody should fear the Cubs.

  • In reply to KC3772:

    I agree KC

    Now he is just another player on the team. Rizzo, Solar and Bryant are looked at as the run producers. The pressure is off. Silent Assassin is a great term for it.

    He is not the best player. He doesnt have to do everything and try to win the game by himself

    In the field Arrieta who is a very cerebral guy has noticed the difference. That is all I need to hear

    I will accept the apology of all the Starlin bashers of the last 3 years

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    In reply to cubbybear7753:

    Nothing to apologize for. He wasn't focused and made boneheaded plays. He brought the criticism on himself. He was, and is, physically gifted. I don't think anyone seriously said he wasn't. It was always about his mental approach to the game. It's nice to see him put the two things together. It takes some guys longer. I'm happy for him and the Cubs!

  • In reply to KC3772:

    4-1 on the road. 5-2 in the division. When is the last time we as Cubs fans remember this?

  • I agree with you about Maddon. I believe that both he and Theo are legitimate geniuses. They are capable of using their intellectual gifts to communicate, execute, and lead. Obviously the results for Theo can be seen more tangibly at the moment, but I just get the feel that Joe knows how to use his genius with his team as well, just based on interviews I've heard.

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    In reply to Mr Hawk:

    Lol, that's was a great one. That made me smile

  • No doubt its a combination of factors (maturity, Maddon, etc.) but my gut tells me its mostly that Castro is now finally surrounded with equal or better talent, and especially young talent. All these guys are pushing and propelling each other, just like a starting staff does when they are on a roll. It's a thing to behold and that's what makes the Cubs "Must Watch TV."

    I was super excited during the '84, '03 and '07/'08 seasons, but I think I'm being honest with myself when I say that I have never been more excited about the Cubs than I am right now!

  • In reply to TTP:

    +1

    ...well said

  • In reply to TTP:

    TTP :

    Wasn't it you that threw his shoe at the television after another 13 men LOB game last year?

    I'm glad you missed so you can enjoy this year's team!

    Regards,
    DtP

  • John, thanks for another great column. This is a bit off-topic, but here goes: Dave Cameron over at Fangraphs is skeptical that Addison Russell is Major League ready. Assuming he's correct (a big assumption, but let's just go with it for the sake of this question), how does Russell's promotion affect his long-term development? In other words, if players are promoted too soon and then sent back down to AAA, does that hurt them long-term? Or do they just go about making the necessary adjustments until they're ready to be brought up again? I'm just really struck by the difference between how the Cubs handled Bryant (waiting until he was ready and then some) vs. players like Alcantera and now Russell (perhaps rushing them a bit).

  • In reply to October:

    Thanks.

    I don't think it hurts players like Russell long term. It certainly didn't hurt Anthony Rizzo and I think those two are cut from a similar cloth. If he has to go back, he has to go back but it is one game. And with all due respect to Cameron. who does great work, his forte is statistical analysis, not player development. If the Cubs and Joe Maddon think he can help, then I think we have to trust that.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    On Friday, Hoyer said he is hitting the full arsenal of pitches. Yesterday, Maddon said that Jose Flores gave the nod on his readiness defensively.

  • In reply to Greggie Jackson:

    Exactly. Those are the guys qualified to make the decision on Russell's readiness.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    It's been one game for Russell, with Joe West as an umpire. He was hung out to dry on his first two at bats. I am all aboard on Russell. He seems like a hard nosed player. Hopefully, he has a short memory and gets things rolling tonight.

  • In reply to October:

    The kid has 59 career PA's at the AAA level. Everybody is different. Castro skipped it and turned out just fine. Others like Rizzo and Trout, struggled in their first attempt at MLB. A couple months from now, there will be no questions about "if" he is ready. But even if he's not, he's better than what we've been rolling out there at 2B.

  • In reply to October:

    Remember this is Kris Bryant's and Addison Russell's first ever look at the Pirate pitching staff.

    I'm really looking forward to next week's series when they get a second look at those same guys!

  • I'm curious to see how the team handles it during the long season especially before playoff push time when real hot as we are not even 1/10 of a season. With multiple good players there shouldn't be so much ice cold stretches, but if there is an injury etc. It is always much easier when winning and coming back from behind.

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    For a lot of teams, shortstop is a offensive liability. The Cubs are incredibly fortunate to have such a good offensive player at a defensive-oriented position. If he continues to play defense as well as he has so far this season, and let's dream and say he reaches 20 home run power, he becomes a truly special player.

  • In reply to Cubs Win 009:

    If he keeps playing like this he may be the team's mvp.

  • I think Maddon deserves some credit...but I also think Castro did what most kids in their early 20's do...he grew up a little. Add in the trouble he dodged in the night club shootings and moving to the US full time and I think it is all coming together at once.

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    In reply to Hoosier Gus:

    Exactly. People seem to forget he was having a pretty decent season at the plate last year before the injury.

    Yes he was making some bonehead plays in the field, but (no way am I defending him as when your being paid like a pro be a pro) playing in meaningless games pretty much for 3 years really has to wear on your concentration a little.

  • This is why you don't rush to trade x when y comes up to the majors. You take some time and see what develops with team chemistry and player maturity.

  • In reply to Eldrad:

    Couldn't agree more Eldrad...let's hope Cub fans don't rush to dump Baez and Alcantara either. The talent is evident and some just take a while longer to develop.

  • In reply to Hoosier Gus:

    100% agree. I think Baez and Alcantara will both be back this year.

  • One thing nice about starting someone as young as they did with Castro is that by the time he finally figures it out he's still only 25.

  • I wouldn't be too surprised if Castro also emerged as more of a vocal team leader type normally associated with shortstops as the season unfolds.

  • In reply to Eldrad:

    As the confidence grows, he can grow into that role naturally.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    He also might not be that and with the guys on this team that would be fine. Some people just have personalities where they need to see others lead to come out of their shell. Something struck me last night listening to Castro talk about how last year they would lost that game and he talked about how they quit. I have no doubt that he felt they did and something subconsciously shut down in those situations. He probably had this vague though that no matter how hard he busted his butt others weren't doing the same. The thing that's different now is talent, those other three guys, Soler, Rizzo and Bryant are at least as talented as he is and maybe more.

    I managed people in business for 30 years, this is kind of common. I'd take over an organization with a bad mix of business talent, for lack of a better term, and there would be this one guy/gal who's performance reviews showed he was exceptional but didn't quite perform, didn't have focus. Then I'd hire good people around that person and they would shine. This reminds of that, and Maddon reminds me of an exceptional "manager" in the business sense as well as the baseball sense. People perform according to both their individual gifts and the environment around them. This is sure looking like a good mix of that for Castro.

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    The guy Castro was last night is exactly what they need. If pitchers are going to pitch around Soler, Rizzo, and Bryant, we simply need someone who can put the bat on the ball to drive them in.

  • In reply to Mike Moody:

    Great point, I was just saying the same thing to my buddy. It's beautiful to see the heart of the order perfectly willing to lay of pitcher's pitches and take a walk, knowing that there are only three bases that can be occupied at once and then Castro steps up with the bases juiced.

  • In reply to Mike Moody:

    Absolutely. We can't have all our guys be huge power/swing and miss guys. I like Castro in the 5 hole when Ross or Castillo catches. I don't care if he is 5 or 6 when Montero is in the lineup. I just like Castro coming up with all those men on base

  • In reply to Mike Moody:

    What I really like and what I was talking to Kevin about today, was that he just seems to get it right now. He just may be the best situational hitter on the team right now.

    I even had a lot of respect for his failure against the Reds the other day. He was trying to do the right thing, at first trying to hit a fly ball and then with two strikes trying to make contact and punch it through the drawn in infield. He got beat on a good pitch by the Reds reliever, but I can live with that. What I cannot live with is when he (or any other Cub) get themselves out in that situation.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    Agreed. I remember you saying something to that effect in spring training. He walks up to the plate with a plan, and more often than not executes that plan.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    Remeber what Castro said yesyerday after the game. Something about Melancon wouldnt throw his curve in tight spots, hes stick with his FB or Cutter. Melancon didnt throw a single curve after the leadoff hit by Rizzo. Shows you hes thinking also.

  • In reply to Mike Moody:

    Agreed....that Bryant at bat in the 9th inning was phenomenal given he's been up here less than a week. Don't expand your strike zone and trust your teammates. That swing on the double earlier in the game was special too. I have a serious man crush on him.

  • In reply to Bobloblaw:

    thought he had his first bomb when he hit that little league homer Monday night. Certainly has learned quickly to lay off bad pitches, hasnt he?

  • This was another great and insightful post John. It was at the light reading it. Couldn't agree more

  • In reply to SteveBB:

    I wish there was an edit function here. I meant to say - it was a delight reading it.

  • This team is just too much fun to watch already. I expected some combination of the Rizzo, Soler, Bryant, Castro group to get hot but did not expect for them all to do it at the same time and so early in the year!! The fact we are 8-5 with all the injuries to the bullpen (causing blown leads), Olt/Lastella, and Lester's slow start from minimal Spring Training, it's very very very encouraging. I know it is much too early considering Edwards is only working out of the pen in Tennessee. But am I the only one seeing our middle relief imploding thinking "Man, Edwards would look pretty good/be effective in this role right now."

  • I had been one of the doubters of Castro. I knew he had the talent but it never seemed to be where it should be. I no longer feel that way about him Thanks for succinctly pointing out the change in him and the changes in the team, John. My next question for you is - when will they win the World Series?

  • In reply to pricewriter:

    Haha! Wish I could answer that. I will say "this year" every year until it happens. Eventually I will be right and hopefully sooner rather than later.

  • In reply to pricewriter:

    I still keep hearing everyone say that we "might" have a shot at being in the wild card race. Screw that. I am drunk on the Kool-Aid and I say we WILL win the division!

  • In reply to vegascubsfan:

    It’s not out of the question. There are some holes (another starter, back end reliever) but the offense is going very well right now and the big boppers aren’t even bopping yet. The HRs are coming from secondary guys.

    The Cardinals have a strong OBP lineup but don’t have the power (or the speed) the Cubs have. Their pitching is probably best in the division but not by a wide margin. The Pirates are roughly equal to the Cubs in talent. I expect the Reds and Brewers to fade (or keep fading) and not be part of the equation.

  • In reply to Ed Vajcner:

    Another starter? Or do we just need Lester to get on track? Sure, we could use another TOR guy. Who Couldn't? I think Lester pitching like he is capable of, and getting Grimm and Ramirez back would be enough. I doubt the FO will sit on it though. They have shown a willingness to improve this team every reasonable chance they get.

  • Great article John. I am really glad to see you use the word "focus" while explaining Castro's fire. I knew he was better than he was playing in the field, but before "it" just wasn't there. I'm not sure if Maddon has as much to do with it, as the fact that he looks around and sees talent up and down the lineup. No one wants to be the reason a team loses. He just seems more engaged than in the past. (As far back as spring training! Lol!) This team has no quit in them, and it's a beautiful thing to watch!

  • In reply to vegascubsfan:

    Thanks. I think Maddon lets players get themselves where they need to be, but he subtly guides them there and only when they need it.

  • I hope I don't get banned for saying this, and it may show my age, but, this team reminds me a bit of the 1984 team.
    Maybe not in the mix of "lightning in a bottle" veterans, but in the never quit mentality, and the enjoyment of the game.
    If this continues, and the team gets better, more cohesive, and continues the passion for winning, we could turn into the fans, and the team that others love to hate.

  • In reply to Chrisw95:

    Well, I think for some, we've been the fans to hate for awhile now. **Glares at Cardinal Fans**

    '84 was lightening in a bottle and like lightening in a bottle - it was gone real fast too. This is so much different since it's a structural overhaul from top to bottom - which should be around for some time to come.

  • In reply to SteveBB:

    Ive been comparing the Cubs rebuild to the only one I can think of as comparble, the early 90s Indians. Like the Cubs, the Indians drafted young studs(Belle, ManRam Thome) made great trades(Joe Carter for S Alomar, Baerga) Eddie Taubansee for Lofton). And signed some shrewd vets(D Martinez, Tony Pena, E Murray, P Sorrento). And John Hart wisely locked up most of them to team-friendly contracts early in there careers. I see the same with the Cubs.

  • In reply to Chrisw95:

    Haha! Why on Earth would you get banned for saying that? Just so everyone knows, we've banned 3 people here in just over 4 years, a couple for consistent personal attacks on others and another for racist comments.

    I would agree. I'd love for the Cubs to become unlovable winners instead of lovable losers.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    I was referencing 1984, figured it was dangerous to go there.
    But, I did refrain from mentioning doing the wave. :)

  • In reply to Chrisw95:

    Well, the wave. Now that might get you banned :)

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    Doing the wave is definitely an offense for which one should be banned. Then tarred and feathered...

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    The wave should get anyone banned.

    I know all about that 84 team. Speed at the top, power and very good starting pitching. A few more vets than this team has. I dont think this team can equal the 84 Cubs but maybe by 2016 and or 17 they may be their equals.

  • In reply to cubbybear7753:

    1984 was my very first game at Wrigley, have been a fan since 1981, so, I was thrilled to see that season unfold.
    I think this team has the passion, and the grind that I've not seen since 1984, and, WGN had the best pre, and post show song to make that a completely special season.
    So any relation to that team is the Cubs heading in the right direction.
    And as a P.S. To this day, I refuse to do the wave, no matter the game, team, or park, it's just too disgusting to even make an exception.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    Look how fast the Royals changed from loveable losers, to feel good winners, to Public Enemy #1 for some teams.

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    In reply to John Arguello:

    Is that knucklehead Cubs talk still banned or he just disappeared.

    I was stunned that guy his age ( def above 50, maybe 60) would say the off the wall stuff over n over n over again.

  • In reply to Chrisw95:

    1984 was a fun year to watch,.... would have been more fun if it had NOT been followed by what happened in 1985 and 1986,.... or if it had ended in a WS appearance instead of resulting in my becoming an eternal 'hater' of Steve Garvey,.....

  • In reply to drkazmd65:

    I still have a poster of Steve Garvey rolled up in my garage which I used for dart practice until 1992. My disdain remains - but the poster is now just a thing of the past.

  • In reply to drkazmd65:

    1985 actually started pretty well until the whole rotation went down and newly acquired middleman Ray Fotenot became the #1 starter. My lasting image of Fotenot is him throwing a pitch and then jumping up with a disgusted expression as the batter hit a rocket over his head.

    Castro is playing inspired baseball--I love it.

  • In reply to seattlecub:

    True seattlecub,.... but once the rotation went down - that was a sad season to watch in 1985.

    Castro,... and in fact pretty much the whole team,... is playing like they love the game AND want to win.

  • In reply to Chrisw95:

    I don't always like comparisons to other sports, but I have no reasonable precedent to this Cubs team in my lifetime as a fan. The closest to this is how I felt as a Bears fan around 1984. The pieces were being put in place, primarily through the draft-- Van Horne, Singletary, Dent, Covert, McMahon, Gault, Marshall--around a veteran core--Payton, Hampton. After a long period of futility, it just felt different...special. They didn't win it all until the next season, which also probably feels about right.

  • In reply to CoolerbytheLake:

    Blackhawks 5-8 years ago. Great drafts (Keith/Seabrook/Toews/Kane/Hjalmarsson/Byfuglien), highway robbery in trades (Sharp/Versteeg/Havlat/Ladd/Leddy), big signings (Campbell/Hossa).

  • Can someone please explain to me why Schlitter is the first one brought in from the bullpen seemingly every day?! I realize we've got some key guys hurting, but we definitely have better options. Even at AAA, we have better options.

  • In reply to vegascubsfan:

    I will write on that later today for our lineup notes.

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    In reply to John Arguello:

    I can't wait for this one. This could be the most anticipated article ever.

    Reasons for throwing schillttter out there over n over again to keep coughing up leads. Hard to build confidence by keep coughing up leads and buring W's for your teammates.

    I had no problem with them bringing him in yesterday as "ground ball specialist " if they had not seen him be bad over the weekend.

    That SD game was just silly. I just find it hard to believe that Strop ( who was relatively fresh at that time) couldn't come in and try to get 4 outs. Or God forbid Joe didn't want Strop coming in to close out an inning ( 1 out) and then start the 8th. Okay I will bite. Then let schiltter come in and start the 8th w nobody on and play it by ear on when to bring in someone else or Rondon

  • also.. could tell how impressed the pirate announcers were with Soler and Bryant.. especially Bryants AB in the ninth.. that 3-2 breaking ball for ball 4.. KB didnt even sniff at it

  • I'm surprised you didn't mention Bryant as the model of the aggressive player. Somehow, in at least 3 instances, it looked like he was caught off base, and still ended safe. On the play at the plate, he was called out, and whether he was or wasn't, the Cubs still came up with the 4 runs needed to get by Pittsburgh.

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    In reply to jack:

    Kris "Snake Charmer" Bryant. You think his aggressiveness is going to bite him but he ends up safe.

  • In reply to jack:

    The system seems to be teaching aggression on the paths. That first to third last night was crucial. Hopefully, he can tone down getting hung up.

  • I think for Castro it's a combo of Maddon and finally having that time in the majors under his belt to be mature. He was barely in the minors, he didn't have much time there to iron out all the kinks, to play better more focused defense. People always said about him that he would make the difficult plays look routine and the routine plays look difficult. More time in the minors might have allowed him to make every play look routine. I'm sure that playing on a team that has a chance to be competitive is also part of it.

  • In reply to jorel1114:

    Excellent point. People forget that Castro is only a few years older than Bryant. He's had to learn on the job in the majors while other guys took their lumps in the minors.

  • Nah. MJ didnt have Boras for an agent to ruin our fun.

  • I am still keeping my giddiness in check even after a comeback like last night's, it is starting to feel a bit like history repeating. Are the 2015 Cubs the Chicago's baseball equivalent of the 1989 Bulls? Joe Maddon is looking like the baseball version of Phil Jackson, the right skill and level of "tension" on the reins to manage this young talented ball club and an ability to teach, even veteran star players. After some frustration with Doug Collins, Jackson came on in '89 and two years later won his first title. Are the Cubs similarly poised?

    Jerry Krause was not a popular guy but he could find the right role players. Epstoyer have had their detractors but they seem to have some pretty good pieces in place (sorry for the Wannstedt reference). Time will tell but this is fun.

  • In reply to All W Days:

    Reminiscent of the Bulls? I'm a little afraid to go there. Two three-peats like the Bulls had would be too much to hope for, especially in baseball. But the same run of competitiveness; maybe that IS possible with this team. I've been waiting since '69 for that.

  • In a literal sense, they did not really quit last year or even the year before that. They just have much better talent in the lineup now that is capable of scoring in any given inning. There is big difference between this lineup now and the one that previous managers had to work with. I love Maddon as a manager but give him previous Cub teams and he would struggle too.

    It is cool to see it all come together and we should all look forward to not only a fun season this year but for many years to come.

  • In reply to MoneyBall:

    Before Bryant and Russell who did this team really have different from last year? Dexter Fowler? Who started off on a rough patch. I know the pitch framing is better, but starting and relief pitching were our strengths last year also.

    LaStella has been a nonfactor, Herrera has been a weakness, Szcuzur didn't do much. I'm not saying Maddon would have made the playoffs with last year's team or the year before, but I think he has brought a lot to the team this year and at least part of their early success is due to him.

  • In reply to jorel1114:

    I agree with you that Maddon is a great addition. However, the opening day lineup last year did not have fowler, soler, or bryant. How would this lineup look without these three players?

  • I'm starting to love the Montero tweets. Thanks for having them on here John.

  • In reply to Greggie Jackson:

    He is my favorite Cubs player follow on Twitter. Unfiltered excitement.

  • Unbelievable. All these comments on this post and not one of you has given your newest Castro trade scenario. I think it's time to put those to rest.

  • Seeing Castro with all this confidence is dangerous for other teams. He seems like he knows that no matter the competition he will be ready to play, and play well. It's also nice to see him happier than he was last season. Based on what players like Rizzo and Arrieta are saying about him, he seems like he is a great presence in the clubhouse as well.

  • I live in KC, have for 11 years now, so the Royals have become my 1B team over time, love them. There's a real similarity between what the Royals have experienced over the last 2 years and what the Cubs are just beginning to experience. Swagger, sure, but it's more a degree of self-confidence, and assurance. That means VOLUMES to a young player, and it's made all the difference in the world for Royals players like Cain, Moustakas, Dyson and Escobar as the four best examples. I think Castro is now experiencing the same thing, and it's good for the Cubs, big-time.

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    John, thank you for this article. It perfectly captures what I see from Castro. Starlin seems 100% team focused, accountable, and enjoying the game. As a fan, it is hard not to feel proud of his growth. It is so nice to see him playing hard, smiling, and leading.

  • John,

    When is this coaching staff going to teach these ball players that all home plate slides should be on outer part(the point furthest from catcher) of plate?With the new blocking rules this will always be the best they don't seem to be adapting.We have gotten burned numerous times already.

  • the times we have gotten "burned" the defense made the perfect plays.. keep it going.. they wont make the perfect play every time

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    "When I saw Rizzo get on base and the double by Soler, I said, 'That guy has no chance with us today."'

    One of my favorite things ever said by a Cub. Terrific!

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    First off, I love your blog. It is so well written.
    I do wonder why MLB even uses replay if they won't ever overturn any calls. It seems like a farce to me. I am a former ump, and last nights replay was obvious to me and another former ump that an overturn was in order. West was still waddling into position and the tag was located to where it was obvious that the foot would have had to touch the plate first. MLB doesn't hold their umpires accountable.

  • In reply to Chris Moffatt:

    Thank you, I appreciate that.

    Replay seems to be more concerned with defending umps whenever possible rather than getting the call right.

  • In reply to Chris Moffatt:

    Half his leg was on the plate when the tag may have been applied. I wouldn't put it past West not relaying an overturned call.

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    Line-up for today's game has been announced:
    Fowler
    Soler
    Rizzo
    Bryant
    Castro
    Montero
    Coghlan
    Hammel
    Russell

  • Beautifully written again John. You hit the nail on the head when saying Castro is the "barometer that measures the effectiveness of a manager's communication style."
    This couldn't be more spot on. Anyone can manage Bryant and Russell. They are a managers dream, big talent and better attitudes (from my POV, outside looking in). But its the difficult player to manager that sets managers apart - getting the best out of these players. That's what Maddon seems to have done with Castro.
    Even if his number regress a bit from where they are at now, he has proven in the first two weeks of baseball, that he is far too valuable to this organization to trade in July. He is coming into his own and its a pleasure to watch.

  • This chatter about Castro makes me think about Baez. He is another great talent that is having problems. I am conflicted... does he need ABs in AAA ... or will he only produce under the guidance of someone like Maddon? I know the Cubs don't need him now, but I worry that he only may achieve his potential under the leadership of someone like Maddon.

  • In reply to Old Man Moe:

    That's an interesting thought. It seems to me that Baez succeeded at every level until he reached the majors. Id guess that after a little time in the minors, he will start to hit as he always has, and the confidence will be back. I don't think he needs Maddon to help him hit AAA pitching, his talent has always allowed him to do that. But getting some confidence back and then coming back up, that's when maybe we get to see what Maddon can do with him. For the record, I am a big believer in Baez, and also a believer that if anyone can get through to him, its Maddon.

  • In reply to Old Man Moe:

    I would lean toward Baez being fine just getting ABs and working on mechanics in AAA. He is still very young, lots of guys have parts of their game they need to adjust at that age, and most of them are doing it in A ball. He can work with Manny down in AAA. The Cubs player development has a good reputation.

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    In reply to mjvz:

    I think Javy needs to get over his personal problems ( which I can't even imagine losing a younger sibling, sick or not) and the demotion.

    Let him start mashing again. It has been a long time since he was just Javy being Javy killing aaa pitching. Once he starts getting hot and back into a routine, then start Emphasizing those things they want him to fix. Once he starts progressing, bring him up and let the Top instructors at the MLB level get him on course thus bringing out his full potential.

  • In reply to Jim Odirakallumkal:

    Actually, he spent all winter and ST focusing (or trying to) on the approach and pitch recognition. His ST could have rivaled Bryants like he did the previous two years. He just needs to continue on those things at the AAA level. His confidence will never be low. lol

  • Welly had a great game too - long double, the HR and his babip groundout for the game winning run

  • I'll be direct and concise. Joe West should take up country music full time.

  • In reply to JimmyLeeMcMath:

    I was shocked when the Pirates' announcers said that Joe West umpired his first MLB game in 1976 - almost 40 years ago!

    And, I know this will be hard for Joe to grasp, but I'm probably not the only one who has never watched or gone to an MLB game just to see Joe West umpire.

  • The follow-up to Castro looking like he just 'might' be important enough to leave as SS is then this,...

    If Castro is sticking at SS, Bryant is sticking at 3B, and Russell is sticking at 2B,..... what do you do with Baez once he starts hitting the ball with authority again and NOT striking out 4/10 plate appearances?

    Do you consider moving Baez to the LF? At least as a short-term fix? Given - if he doesn't get regular Plate Appearances in Iowa until sometime in May, and isn't ready to go again before mid-Summer,.... this is a problem we don't quite have to deal with yet.

  • In reply to drkazmd65:

    nothing is set in stone.. I will say we dont need a definitive answer on Baez right now, I say let it play out

  • I love your take on Maddon and Castro, John. If there is one guy that is benefiting from Maddon it would totally be Castro. But, can we get someone to put a microphone in front of the guy that isn't even supposed to be on this team. Wellington Castillo has raised his level of play. He has been an unsung hero on a few come from behind victories. Big game last night in a tough hitters park. I wonder how many teams are currently knocking at the Cubs door? At this point I don't think we can lose him without a significant replacement reliever and a decent prospect.

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    In reply to cub since 89′:

    Re our catching department . I hope the FO sees that our 2 best catchers are Montero and Castillo . 1945diehard Ron

  • In reply to cub since 89′:

    Castillo has done a nice job and is starting to round his game out a little. The Cubs have gone in a different direction but I hope they can get some help. The Cubs price has been high so they don't seem to be in a hurry to deal him.

  • Castro will be an All Star again this year.
    And it won't be because the Cubs gotta have a guy on the team.

  • fb_avatar

    Enjoy a little video that was sent to me. Funny as Hell

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0cfJ16hHyfc&feature=youtu.be

  • In reply to bocabobby:

    thanks for sharing...hilarious!!

  • In reply to bocabobby:

    Thanks for posting. I'm still laughing.

  • In reply to bocabobby:

    That is brilliant. One of the best one of those for sure. Was a nice touch making him a white sox fan...

  • In reply to bocabobby:

    My life is now complete! That was brilliant!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  • In reply to SteveBB:

    Almost complete.

  • In reply to bocabobby:

    "Everyone who has Kris Bryant on their fantasy team, leave the room." Hysterical!

  • Lost in all of last nights events was another stellar appearance for Ejax. If he doesn't throw a shut down inning and stop the bleeding I doubt it ends the same.
    Granted it's early. But any team could have had him for a loaf of bread. Could be some regret in a few front offices. I'm not so sure he's available at the moment and if he is the price is going up with every successful outing.

  • In reply to Cubmitted:

    I always thought the Jackson may be a better reliever than starter. He's always had great stuff and seemed to have games where he's great except for one inning where he gives of 5 or 6 runs. I think John had an article here as well where one of our new catchers indicated that his issue was focus (there's that word again). Maybe there's a second chapter to his career. Lots of guys became excellent relievers after being mediocre starters. Dennis Eckersley comes to mind.

  • I told somebody today that it would suck to trade EJax only to have him become Dennis Eckersley.

    We already did that once!

  • Getting off the Castro subject for a moment I was intrigued about the Joe West ego statement. I for one find him an embarassment to MLB and what the umpires should stand for. The best umpires are seldom noticed but not Big Joe. He just calls whatever he want to. The called third strike on Soler in the first inning was to me a "welcome to the bigs, rookie". "Do you know who I am?" Announcers said he had been in the league since 1976. 38 years is long enough. Hopefully he will retire otherwise the league should take action IMO.

  • In reply to veteran:

    Joe West was so bad that they changed the center field camera angle.

  • In reply to Greggie Jackson:

    Joe West was so bad, The Escape Club changed the name of their 1988 hit single to "Wild, Wild East."

  • In reply to YouCannotBeSerious:

    Hilarious

  • In reply to Greggie Jackson:

    Maybe not if that song gets stuck in my head.

  • In reply to Greggie Jackson:

    Very true. No amount of levity is worth such torture.

  • Joe West was so bad that Nutri-System dropped him as a potential spokes-person. (too mean?)

  • In reply to SteveBB:

    Poor Joe

  • Joe West was so bad that Kanye is embarrassed to have the same last name.

  • In reply to hoffpauir6:

    Joe West was so bad, the sun will now set in the north...

  • Excellent article John.
    I think Maddon has already, in an intangible and indirect way, been responsible for three or four wins the Cub's wouldn't have gotten last or, with a different manager this year.
    Joe's combination of leadership, motivational, teaching, and communication skills can help make the difference in many games throughout the season.
    It is subjective and hard to measure, but you can see the confidence, swagger and aggressiveness (especially base running), that wasn't seen before.
    I do agree with the seemingly general assessment of the analytical experts, that tactical lineup and in game decisions that mangers make only accounts for a difference in 4 or 5 games a year.
    But the intangibles a manager like Joe brings, albeit indirectly, can positively impact and make a difference in many more.

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    In reply to rqdbears:

    He's also lost at least 1....too early to crown him King or jester

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