Chicago Cubs’ Starlin Castro, Jeff Samardzija earn All-Star Game nods


Coming off the worst season of his career, many Cubs fans wondered whether or not Starlin Castro was really a core player moving forward.

If Sunday evening’s recognition is any indication, Castro will be a household name for years to come.

Castro and recently-traded right-hander Jeff Samardzija were both named to the National League All-Star team on Sunday night, giving Chicago two representatives in the Midsummer Classic – a year after Travis Wood was the club’s only player to make the squad. First baseman Anthony Rizzo is a finalist for the Final Vote effort, which will allow fans to decide which player will fill a roster spot on the team at next week’s game in Minnesota.

Castro, who will be appearing in his third All-Star Game in five big league seasons, has been a catalyst for the Cubs’ offense this year, thriving as an unnatural cleanup hitter for first-year skipper Ricky Renteria. Unnatural in the sense that, typically, number four hitters have the biggest power threat in the lineup. For Castro, though, it’s been all about timely hitting and good at-bats.

In 274 plate appearances spanning 64 games, Castro is hitting .295/.347/.500 for Chicago, which far exceeds his numbers in any other spot in the lineup. He has appeared in the next-most games in the five spot in the lineup, where he has hit .211/.250/.237. Nine of the shortstop’s 11 home runs on the year have also come from the cleanup spot.

In terms of his overall offensive output, the shortstop has been immeasurably better than in 2013, already exceeding his home run and RBI totals from all of last season, in which he appeared in all but one game for the Cubs. In half a season, Castro has already totaled 50 RBIs (as opposed to just 44 last seas0n) and 11 home runs (10 all of last season).

Castro has actually been better on the road than at home, another sign of his maturity at the dish. In 46 road contests, the 24-year-old has hit .306/.365/.525, as compared to a .271/.302/.406 mark at Wrigley Field. Thirty of his 50 RBIs have come on the road, as well.

Samardzija, who was traded to the Oakland Athletics late last week in a blockbuster deal along with Jason Hammel, went 2-7 with a 2.83 ERA in 17 starts with Chicago prior to the deal and emerged early on as the ace of the Cubs staff. In his first start with Oakland, the right-hander tossed seven frames of one-run ball, leading the A’s to a win over Toronto at home.

The right-hander is on pace to eclipse 200 strikeouts for the second consecutive season and is the first Chicago right-hander to earn All-Star Game recognition since 2008. Samardzija ranked in the top ten starting pitchers in earned run average, strikeouts and innings pitched prior to the trade that sent him to the West Coast for a package of young talent, evidence of how far he has come since he began his big league career as a reliever for Chicago in 2008 at 23 years old.

Samardzija will receive All-Star recognition, but, due to the trade, will not participate in this year’s festivities.

Rizzo, the other offensive star on this year’s team, has been on a tear to close out the season’s first half, and leads all National League first basemen with 17 home runs. He also ranks near the top of the leaderboard in terms of walks, OPS and clutch RBIs. After struggling immensely against left-handed pitching in 2013, the young Cubs’ star has turned things around on a dime this year.

In fact, he’s turned things around so much that he’s actually better against lefties than righties this season, hitting southpaws at a .284 clip this season, nearly 100 points better than in 2013.  He’s shown the ability to adjust to defenses that often shift on him, another sign of a still-maturing offensive force-to-be-reckoned-with.

The 85th All-Star Game will be broadcast on FOX and takes place on Tuesday, July 15 in Minneapolis.