Last week, when Chicago Cubs shortstop Starlin Castro experienced his latest mental gaffe that resulted in a run against the St. Louis Cardinals, Chicago media erupted in a fury, with some going so far as to call for his demotion to Triple-A Iowa.
The tension surrounding the young shortstop, who signed a long-term, 8-year, $60.57 million contract with Chicago last August, has been building for reasons other than his mental miscues. He’s struggled at the plate this season, and is well below the pace to meet his career average across several offensive categories.
He’s hitting some 44 points below his career average of .284, and is projected to hit nine home runs and drive in 41 runs. Over the past three years, he’s averaged ten home runs, which is comparable to this season, but also some 62 RBIs, as well – well below the mark he’s on pace for this year.
His on-base percentage, slugging percentage and OPS have all taken major hits this season, as well, leading many to question his abilities – despite the fact that he’s just 23 years old. Yet, few writers have tackled the club’s other struggling cornerstone, first baseman Anthony Rizzo.
Despite his outstanding health, which plays a major role in the fact that he is projected to play in 159 of 162 games this season, the 24-year old Rizzo has taken a step backwards in 2013, reverting from the form he maintained in Chicago last season.
In 124 games this season, Rizzo has hit .239 with 20 home runs and 68 RBIs, evidence of a still-developing power stroke that is already formidable. What most Cubs fans don’t seem to realize is that these numbers are right on what Rizzo has done thus far in his career.
In his career, he is a .239 hitter. Last season was an anomaly – hitting .285 over the course of 87 games with Chicago. The year prior, he didn’t even hit his weight – not even close, with his average of .141 in 49 games for San Diego. His on-base percentage in 2013 is comparable to last year’s, coming in at .325 – just 17 points below his 2012 mark.
The power is clearly there. Last night against Washington, hitting out of the two hole for the first time in his professional career, Rizzo clubbed a pair of home runs in a losing effort.
This season is already a lost effort for those of you wishing this club would at least make a run at .500. It’s inconsistent, despite an overall outstanding effort from starting pitchers all season long. One night, Chicago tallies ten-plus runs, the next, the team gets shut out.
As the team eyes the future, with the ‘Cubs’ Way’ movement well underway, Jed Hoyer and Theo Epstein will need these two to step up their play a notch in 2014 and beyond.
Castro must remain focused, and return to the shortstop who earned an eight-year contract last year, while raking his way towards 200 hits for the second straight year. Rizzo needs to work on keeping his stroke short, and making contact more consistently, while continuing to improve his power.
If these two can put it all together for 162 games, this Chicago lineup will look very different, very quickly.