Cubs’ manager Joe Maddon recently pointed to the Cubs four-game sweep of the defending World Series champion San Francisco Giants in early August as the turning-point of the season. The young team rode the high from that series to a nine-game win streak that shot them into the thick of the playoff picture. They would never look back.
That high point for the team was probably the lowest point of Starlin Castro’s six-year major league career. After the first game of that defining series against the Giants on August 6, during which the three-time All-Star went 0-for-4, stranding six runners, Maddon announced that he was benching Castro in favor of hot rookie shortstop Addison Russell. The manager told Castro it’s “not a day off, and it’s something that is going to be considered daily.”
In the past, Castro’s bat usually made up for his all-too-frequent lapses with the glove. After all, this is the same player who, at the age of 21, became the youngest player to lead the National League in hits. That was in 2011, his second season in the big leagues.
Sometimes it’s easy to forget that Castro, the old vet on the team, is still just 25.
But as his team soared in 2015, Castro struggled, both in the field and at the plate. After that August 6 game, his batting average dropped to a career-low.236 and his on-base percentage to a woeful .271. At the time, he ranked last among major league shortstops with a -0.8 WAR.
Before the benching, speculation ran rampant that Castro would be traded before the midseason trade deadline. At one point, Maddon stepped in and told the press and the fans that Castro would be staying, which made it all the more surprising when he benched him a week later.
Suddenly, Castro was the odd man out. The forgotten one.
The one-time star sat for the next three games as his team kept rolling along.
In the next three games, against the Milwaukee Brewers, Castro came off the bench in each game. After going 0-for-1 in each of the first two games, he finally broke out of the slump with a single in the third game. His first and only hit in the Cubs’ now seven-game win streak.
Against the crosstown White Sox, Maddon finally put Castro back into the starting lineup – but at second base, not shortstop. Castro went 3-for-4 in that first game but then went hitless in the next two games.
The turnaround really started for Castro on August 25. In an 8-5 win against the Giants, Castro went 3-for-4, just a triple shy of hitting for the cycle. He hasn’t let up since then, hitting .385 with 5 home runs, 20 RBI, a .406 OBP and a .659 slugging percentage (statistics through September 29).
Whether it was a change in his batting mechanics, statistical correction, the rest, the magic touch of Joe Maddon, or the catchy walk-up song (“Ando En La Versace” by Omega El Fuerte) that has fans and players alike clapping along, Castro got his groove back.
The big breakout came on September 18, in a critical game against the division leading Cardinals, when he hit two home runs and matched his career high with six RBIs to lead the Cubs to an 8-3 win. For the month of September, Castro put up numbers that should at least put him in the player-of-the-month conversation: .397 BA, 4 HR, 18 RBI, .426 OBP and .683 SLG (statistics through September 29).
The all-but-forgotten Cub had a September to remember, and the same fans that had been calling for him to be traded just two months ago now can’t wait to clap along to that catchy song that signals that Castro is stepping up to the plate.