Chicago Cubs 2016 NL Central Championship Gear

starlin castro smilePart of the reason I wrote up the Maddon-Cardinals-retaliation stuff earlier this morning rather than last night is because I was driving to Chicago immediately after yesterday’s game concluded. It took me longer than usual to get in, as there was a massive storm blistering over northern Indiana just in time for me to see a terrifying lightning display – while driving at 30mph on the highway. At one point, a lightning bolt struck one of the large wind turbines on I-65 right next to me, and – this happened in a flash, so I could totally have misperceived – it looked like there was an eruption of sparks, bigger than I’d ever seen. The crack of thunder was deafening, the hairs on my arm stood up, and all that. My jaw literally hung down for the next several miles. It was an experience.

  • Also an experience: Starlin Castro reaching base four times, including two bombs, driving in six runs for the first time since his ML debut, and almost single-handedly beating the Cardinals. After the second homer, Castro deservedly took a curtain call, and I thought to myself, “How many folks would have predicted back in July that Castro would ever take another curtain call with the Cubs, let alone just two months later?” But here we are. (Indeed, this piece notes that Castro said it was his first ever curtain call, which is surprising, but I guess they tend to be reserved for big/multi-home runs.)
  • Since being removed as the starting shortstop in early August, all Castro has done is hit .356/.370/.589 in 93 plate appearances, becoming utterly impossible to strike out (11.8%), going the other way frequently, and wrecking the ball when he pulls a mistake. Undoubtedly, the way Joe Maddon has utilized Castro – optimizing match-ups, working to put him in a position to succeed – has helped the overall production, but Castro deserves all the credit in the world for doing what he’s done after the year he’s had. Castro has his season line up to .257/.288/.355 (71 wRC+), which may not look like much, but it’s absolutely incredible given how terrifyingly low those numbers had sunk. Consider this: the average line for an NL shortstop this year is just .251/.302/.372. Despite everything, Castro is now very close to performing offensively like an average NL shortstop. He’s even got his WAR into positive territory, at 0.1!

  • Here’s a must-read on Anthony Rizzo’s improvements this year – yes, improvements – which have come despite seeing the highest average fastball velocity increase from 2014 to 2015. In other words, in all of baseball, no batter is seeing faster fastballs this year, as compared to last year, than Anthony Rizzo.
  • Travis Wood starts today’s bullpen day, and here’s hoping he pitches like a reliever – all out for a few innings – rather than a starter. Not that Wood couldn’t still be a good starter down the road, it’s just that he’s been pitching so damn well “as a reliever” lately. I want to see that guy.
  • Scoreboard Watching from earlier today.

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