Let’s start this by saying that as a 23-year-old, Starlin Castro has accomplished more in his first three-plus seasons of Major League Baseball than most aspiring baseball players ever will. There’s a reason why it’s so hard to make it to the majors, why it’s even harder to become a perennial All-Star (much less hold down a steady job) and eventually become a Hall of Famer. Those expectations are way lofty and for now, we enjoy the good and take what we can get.
The problem is that what we are getting now is a lot of disappointment, because Castro is scuffling at the plate. Scuffling is probably putting it very nicely. Other synonyms might include “horrendous,” “terrible,” “below replacement-level,” and what have you. It’s very difficult to pinpoint the exact source of his struggles. Could it be that the Cubs coaching staff messed with his swing too much? Maybe, but of course we have heard how the Cubs tinkered with Anthony Rizzo‘s swing in the minors and he was able to start hitting again (though he, too, has been struggling). Same might be true of Brett Jackson, who is still stuck in Iowa and while striking out less, is hitting for less power. Maybe they should take a look at that.
Maybe the issue is that he’s worn out. Castro has barely had a day off since he made his debut in 2010, and while he is still just 23 years old, playing in every single game of long baseball seasons can take its toll on a guy. While Dale Sveum isn’t ready to give him a day off just yet (and given the alternatives at shortstop in the minors that are actually “ready,” who can blame him), in the context of 2013, the Cubs aren’t contending and giving Castro a couple days off won’t kill them. However, Theo Epstein believes that Castro is just going through a slump rather than regressing, and that giving him consistent playing time at a level where he’s had success will allow him to adjust and break out of that slump. Castro, for his part, has a positive attitude and wants to work hard to return to the two-time All-Star player he recently was.
Therefore, the Cubs have a few options. They play Houston at home and the Brewers in Milwaukee over the next two series. It has been argued that the Astros (one of the worst teams in the majors, if not for the Marlins) and the Brewers (who are just as bad as the Cubs, perhaps not surprisingly) could be excellent slump-busters for Castro. If he scuffles in the first couple games against the Astros, Sveum could conceivably give Castro a day off on Sunday before the scheduled day off on Monday, which would allow two full days to recuperate. It might not be a terrible idea to give him extra time off to recharge the batteries, watch the games, listen to coaches, review tape, etc. In the meantime, the Cubs could play an infield of Cody Ransom at third, Darwin Barney at short and Luis Valbuena at second with Castro as the backup and Steve Clevenger (perhaps?) as the other backup infielder.
Alternatively, they could just move Castro down in the order so he’s not making early outs in the lineup, though that would reduce his opportunities in each game to adjust during live action.
It’s a very tough situation to be in for a kid with huge talent and past success to scuffle this much for basically the first time in his life. I doubt the Cubs care too much about a consecutive games streak since Castro hasn’t proven that he’s at a Lou Gehrig or Cal Ripken, Jr. level of greatness yet. If they do care they could just have him pinch run for Dioner Navarro or Welington Castillo or something. But one thing they have to do is help Castro get out of his slump, and at some point, even after rest and shuffling in the lineup and all that, it will fall to Starlin himself to claw his way out of the abyss. It’s only a matter of time for a guy with his talent. Let’s see what happens.
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