After benching shortstop Starlin Castro this weekend, Joe Maddon and the Chicago Cubs showed that their emphasis is on winning – finally.
It’s been an exciting few weeks since the All-Star Game for Chicago Cubs fans.
Kyle Schwarber rejoined the team and has been white-hot, Anthony Rizzo is making his case for National League MVP and the Cubs entered play Saturday enjoying a 1 1/2-game lead in the race for the second wild card spot in the NL.
And perhaps the most pivotal moment of all came on Friday, when Maddon told the former franchise cornerstone Castro that he would no longer be starting – making no promises at all regarding playing time.
As for the young middle infielder, he claims to be ready to do his part to help Chicago earn a trip to the postseason for the first time since 2008.
"“I felt a little frustrated, especialy [Friday] when they told me I’m not going to play for I don’t know when,” Castro said. “In the beginning, I took it really personal. After that, I thought about it. You can’t put those guys on the bench. They’re really hot right now and I understand. I thought about it last night. I’ll do whatever I can do for the team.”"
The 25-year-old is mired in the worst season of his professional career, batting just .236/.271/.304 this season for a career-worst .575 OPS. His struggles seemed to hit a new low in the month of July, however, when Castro was mired in trade rumors right up until the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline.
During the month of July, he batted a dreadful .170/.194/.202 with just three extra-base hits (all doubles) and zero long-balls. That’s not to mention his .962 fielding percentage this season, which, if the campaign ended today, would be his worst single-season clip since 2011.
Granted, there are a bevy of other ways to measure his contributions (or lack thereof) on both sides of the ball this season, but that’s neither here nor there. For now, the most important thing is simple: the benching itself.
Two years ago, with Castro struggling after his second All-Star selection the year prior, the team had nowhere else to turn. While this year, July proved to be his undoing, in 2013, it was the month of June that spelled doom for the mistake-prone infielder.
In 26 games, Castro batted just .167/.204/.250 for the Chicago Cubs that month. But with the team in the midst of yet-another losing season as the rebuild was full steam ahead in the Minors, there was little reason to move him.
That year, he bounced back with a vengeance, flirting with a .300 average over the course of the following month, before continuing his see-saw like tendencies throughout the end of the year, ending the year with overall disappointing numbers.
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This season, though, it remains to be seen if he’ll even get a chance to redeem himself. And with Kyle Schwarber and Chris Coghlan leading the charge offensively during this ongoing hot stretch, there’s no reason to expect a shake-up on Maddon’s part anytime soon.
So while I’ve adamantly defended Castro over the course of the season, it’s time to accept it for what it is: the Chicago Cubs have a legitimate shot at the playoffs and you can’t keep a player in the lineup for what he’s done in the past during the dog days of summer.
You play your best hand each and every day.
And if Castro doesn’t like that, he’ll have to force his way back into the everyday lineup; a solution that would benefit all parties involved.