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Starlin Castro stays humble: “Nobody’s better than baseball”

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Starlin Castro stands at his locker and takes the heat when things go wrong. He never asks for days off. He won’t let the money or the trade rumors change him.

Castro speaks better English than he did as a rookie, and a $60 million contract has given his family generational wealth. But after all the ups and downs, he still resembles the kid who showed up in the visiting clubhouse at Great American Ball Park on May 7, 2010, and faced the great expectations.

Castro hit a three-run bomb in his first big-league at-bat and put up six RBIs that night in Cincinnati. Three nights later, the young shortstop made three errors and got booed during his Wrigley Field debut.

There have been extremes, getting on the cover of Sports Illustrated, getting ripped by Bobby Valentine on national television and now getting back to the All-Star Game for a third time at age 24.

Castro will sometimes slam his helmet to the ground in frustration or let his mind drift for a moment while playing defense. But he’s remarkably composed for someone who plays a glamour position for an iconic franchise in an overheated media market.

It’s just that Castro’s now a more complete player, already putting up 11 homers and 52 RBIs this season, better numbers than he had all last year.

[MORE CUBS: After Cubs/A’s deal, Samardzija will be in All-Star limbo]

Alfonso Soriano — the $136 million man who became the godfather to Castro’s son, Starlin Jr. — showed how to keep a cool head and bring the right amount of swagger to the ballpark.

“You know who I learned a lot from — Sori,” Castro said. “Sori’s the same guy. Always. I always hung out with him. And that’s the kind of thing that he told me: Nobody’s better than baseball. When you’re gone, baseball stays. If you’re a star, if you’re a great player, keep the same (attitude). Stay humble.”

Castro spoke with Soriano after the New York Yankees designated him for assignment last week, and it’s unclear if he’ll simply stay home with his family in Tampa, Fla., and retire after a borderline Hall of Fame career.

“Maybe,” Castro said. “I don’t know. Let’s see. I don’t talk to him about that. But he’s good.”

Like Soriano, Castro always wants to see his name in the lineup, and that gets overlooked when he’s broken down on Twitter and talk radio.

Castro has started all 94 games at shortstop this season. He played 161 last season, even as he struggled to process the organization’s mixed messages, looking lost at the plate (.245 average). He played all 162 in 2012, part of a consecutive-games streak that reached 269. That says more than the coded language used by some scouts and media personalities.

[MORE CUBS: Kris Bryant gets national spotlight in Futures Game]

Castro credited Tim Buss, the team’s strength and conditioning coordinator, for traveling to the Dominican Republic during the offseason and designing a program that reshaped his body and his mentality. Castro then worked out at the IMG Academy in Bradenton, Fla., before reporting to spring training.

Castro had something to prove after the Cubs fired manager Dale Sveum, citing the stalled development by young core players like their franchise shortstop and first baseman Anthony Rizzo.

Whatever the perceptions, new manager Rick Renteria put it this way: “I just know from the very first phone call we shared over the winter, (Castro) said he was willing to do whatever it took to get back on track. And he’s done it.”

Castro has survived the regime changes, playing for Lou Piniella and Mike Quade and working with a diverse group of hitting coaches and infield instructors, as well as Theo Epstein’s front office. The consensus: Castro is coachable, eager to please, someone who cares about his craft.

“I don’t know what the media have said about him,” Cubs hitting coach Bill Mueller said. “I came in clean with Rizz and Casty. But from Day 1, both those guys have been hard workers, and they take it very seriously. And that’s all you can ask. They’ve been listening. They apply what you’re saying, and they’ve been going out and doing (it).”

Castro appreciates it more this time. He chartered a plane to fly his family and Rizzo to Minnesota. He will be back where he belongs on Tuesday night at Target Field.

“After that bad year last year, that’s what we’re looking for,” Castro said. “Make the All-Star Game and come back at that level.”

Settling the Scores: Memorial Day edition

ARLINGTON, VA - MAY 21:  American flags are shown after being placed by members of the 3rd U.S. Infantry Regiment at the graves of U.S. soldiers buried at Arlington National Cemetery, in preparation for Memorial Day May 21, 2015 in Arlington, Virginia. "Flags-In" has become an annual ceremony since the 3rd U.S. Infantry Regiment (The Old Guard) was designated to be an Army's official ceremonial unit in 1948  (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)
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Memorial Day commemorates the men and women who died in military service. At some point in the past couple of decades, however, it has become an all-purpose flag-waving, patriotism-declaring, civilians-in-camouflage holiday. It’s understandable why this is the case. We, as a country, haven’t always done mourning well. I think it’s part of our national cultural DNA that we don’t and it’s not necessarily a bad thing, but it does make days like this difficult.

I feel like the flag-waving and troop-supporting stuff is some sort of subconscious reaction to death. It’s our way of instantly trying to justify those deaths or to explain how they were not in vain, much the same way we might tell someone upon the death of a loved one that they’re in a better place or that they had a full life. Feeling the pain of loss is hard. We want to soften it in any way we can and make our pain serve a larger, better purpose. And so we get today, when Major League Baseball puts its players in camouflage caps and in jerseys with camouflage logos. They’ll sell them too, with proceeds going to good and noble veterans charities. The intent is noble and the ultimate effect of it all is beneficial. But it’s also a little beside the point. Maybe not beside the point as much as mattress sales or big celebratory barbecues which have come to characterize Memorial Day for so many, but still not exactly the purpose of the holiday.

I don’t condemn it. As I wrote last year, the men and women who actually fought and died in wars were hoping that they were, ultimately, making a better and happier world for those they left behind. And they no doubt hoped, among everything else they hoped, that others didn’t have to face what they were facing. They wanted our lives to be happy and our country to be safe and part of a happy and safe country involves 300 million people doing whatever it is they damn please, even if it’s just having barbecues and wearing camo at the ballpark.

I won’t say have a happy Memorial Day because that seems odd. Have any kind of Memorial Day you want, really, even if it includes barbecuing, drinking beer and wearing a cam ballcap. But as you do, please make sure you take some time to think about those who died in military service. And remember that they didn’t get to have as many days like the one you’re having as they were meant to have. And make at least some effort to offset your happy, patriotic or silly pursuits with some mourning and reflectiveness. It’s OK for that to stand on its own.

The scores:

Red Sox 5, Blue Jays 3
Orioles 6, Indians 4
Yankees 2, Rays 1
Nationals 10, Cardinals 2
Brewers 5, Reds 4
Royals 5, White Sox 4
Cubs 7, Phillies 2
Rangers 6, Pirates 2
Astros 8, Angels 6
Athletics 4, Tigers 2
Twins 5, Mariners 4
Giants 8, Rockies 3
Diamondbacks 6, Padres 3
Marlins 7, Braves 3
Dodgers 4, Mets 2

 

Should Dave Roberts have taken Clayton Kershaw out of Sunday’s game?

NEW YORK, NY - MAY 29:  Clayton Kershaw #22 of the Los Angeles Dodgers delivers a pitch in the first inning against the New York Mets at Citi Field on May 29, 2016 in the Flushing neighborhood of the Queens borough of New York City.  (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
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Dodgers manager Dave Roberts will likely be second-guessed heavily during tomorrow’s news cycle. Starter Clayton Kershaw had pitched a terrific ballgame, as is his tendency, but with 114 pitches to his name, Roberts decided to pull him from the game in the eighth inning with two outs and a runner on first base.

Roberts opted not for closer Kenley Jansen, who hasn’t pitched since Wednesday, but for another lefty in Adam Liberatore. He was playing the numbers, with the left-handed-hitting Curtis Granderson coming up. Liberatore, much to Roberts’ chagrin, served up what turned out to be a game-tying triple to Granderson, hitting a rocket to right-center just out of the reach of a leaping Yasiel Puig.

Jansen has, for six years, been one of the game’s elite relievers. Kershaw, though at a high pitch count, doesn’t seem to suffer from the times through the order penalty like most pitchers. Kershaw’s opponents’ OPS facing him for the first time was .525 coming into Sunday. Twice, .597. Three times, .587. Four times, .526 (but this suffers from survivorship bias so it’s not exactly representative).

Furthermore, Kershaw held lefties to a .546 OPS over his career. Liberatore, in 99 plate appearances against lefty hitters, gave up a .575 OPS. Jansen? .560. It seems that, faced with three decisions, Roberts arguably made the worst one. Playing conservative with Kershaw at 114 pitches is defensible, but only if Jansen comes in. If Roberts wanted the platoon advantage, Kershaw should have stayed in.

Luckily for the Dodgers, Mets closer Jeurys Familia didn’t have his best stuff. He loaded the bases with one out in the top of the ninth on a single and two walks, then gave up a two-run single to Adrian Gonzalez, giving the Dodgers a 4-2 lead. Jansen came on in the bottom half of the ninth and retired the side in order to pick up his 15th save of the season.

Royals sweep White Sox over the weekend on three late rallies

KANSAS CITY, MO - MAY 28:  Brett Eibner #12 of the Kansas City Royals celebrates his game-winning RBI single with teammates in the ninth inning against the Chicago White Sox at Kauffman Stadium on May 28, 2016 in Kansas City, Missouri. The Royals won 8-7. (Photo by Ed Zurga/Getty Images)
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The Royals had themselves a pretty good weekend. The quickly fading White Sox, not so much.

On Friday, the Royals fell behind 5-1 after the top of the sixth. They would score once in the bottom of the sixth, four times in the seventh, and once in the eighth to steal a 7-5 win facing pitchers Miguel Gonzalez Dan Jennings, Matt Albers, Zach Duke and Nate Jones.

On Saturday, the Royals entered the bottom of the ninth down 7-1. They scored seven runs on closer David Robertson and Tommy Kahnle to win 8-7.

On Sunday, the Royals were down 4-2 after the top of the eighth. They plated three runs in the bottom half of the eighth against Jones and Albers, going on to win 5-4.

Coming into the weekend, the Royals were 24-22 in third place. The White Sox were 27-21, a half-game up in first place. Now the Royals are in first place by a game and a half, and the White Sox are in third place, two games out of first.

Here’s video of the Royals’ comeback on Saturday, since it was so unlikely:

Report: Ryan Braun is “the hot name out there”

ATLANTA, GA - MAY 24: Ryan Braun #8 of the Milwaukee Brewers waits to hit during the first inning against the Atlanta Braves at Turner Field on May 24, 2016 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Scott Cunningham/Getty Images)
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In Saturday’s column for The Boston Globe, Nick Cafardo notes that, according to a scout, Brewers outfielder Ryan Braun is “the hot name out there.” Braun has been bothered by neck and back issues this year, missing on Sunday his eighth start out of the Brewers’ last 14 games, but he has still put up a quality .351/.424/.583 triple-slash line in 170 plate appearances this year.

More importantly for an acquiring team, Braun is in the first year of a five-year, $105 million contract. He’s earning $19 million this season and in the ensuing two seasons, and then his salary decreases slightly to $18 million in 2019, $16 million in 2020, and $15 million if both sides pick up his mutual option (else a $4 million buyout would be exercised).

Per Cafardo, the Astros, Cardinals, Red Sox, Phillies, Mets, Giants, and White Sox are potential landing spots for Braun.