The careers of Kyle Schwarber and Addison Russell took more turns Friday. The same could be said for Starlin Castro.
But those turns felt very different.
After activating Miguel Montero from the disabled list, the Cubs beat the San Francisco Giants 7-3 to move 1 1/2 games ahead for the second wildcard spot. Schwarber had two more hits as he made his third start in left field, Chris Coghlan played second base and Russell moved to shortstop, nudging the struggling Castro to the bench.
Joe Maddon explained the move by saying he wanted to keep the bats of Schwarber and Coghlan in the lineup, and that the Cubs “have to include” Schwarber.
“Like I told Starlin, it’s not a day off. I wanted him to understand that up front. It’s something that’s going to be considered daily,” Maddon said. “I did not give him any promises regarding how he’s going to be utilized other than just stay ready off the bench. I didn’t want to give him any kind of false promises whatsoever.”
Of course, this leads to questions about Castro. Russell is a natural shortstop, Javier Baez will eventually return from Triple-A, and there are only so many spots available.
Does this say anything about Castro’s future with the team?
“No. Not at all,” Theo Epstein said. “He’s a big part of what we have going on here. A 25-year-old three-time all-star who has been the shortstop on, right now, a playoff-worthy team and certainly we think will play better baseball going forward than he has the last four months and a week.”
Maybe, but how much of a chance remains to be seen. Though Epstein insisted the move isn’t permanent, it’s clear Castro is no longer the Cubs’ automatic starting shortstop. Hitting just .236, Castro hasn’t responded to playing for a competitive team the way many hoped.
Maddon said Russell will start again Saturday at short, and the rookie did nothing Friday to make that look like a bad decision. He went 1 for 4 and made two acrobatic plays in the field, reaching across his body to tag out Brandon Crawford on a second-inning steal attempt and then dug out a Jon Lester throw to second to turn a double play in the seventh.
“I think having him at second base you don’t really get to see his athleticism,” said Lester, who allowed two runs in seven innings. “It’s a little bit, I guess, easier position but today it was unbelievable the stuff he was able to do out there.”
Schwarber’s winning platitudes as well.
Starting in left field for the third time, Schwarber went 2 for 5 with two runs scored and made a potentially tough play on an Angel Pagan fly deep to left in the third look easy. He had the go-ahead two-run single during a five-run fifth and justified Maddon’s assertion he needs to play because of his bat.
“It’s a nice compliment. I’m going to do whatever I can to help this team win,” Schwarber said. “If I go (hitless) I’ve got to make some plays out in the outfield or even when I’m catching make some good decisions. Just try to find a way to help the team everyday win.”
The Cubs were hoping Castro would do that more than he has this season.
“He’s shown some streakiness in his career, even within the course of a good season he’ll have a couple months where he’s not performing well then he’ll get really hot,” Epstein said. “We’d really benefit from that hot streak. I know that’s what he’s intent on, but it’s just been a year where he hasn’t really gotten comfortable at the plate for whatever reason.”
And with the Cubs in the thick of a wildcard race, the Cubs have to get their best players in the lineup. That means Schwarber and his six homers in 26 games are playing – Maddon said “Schwarber’s kind of the guy that enacted this whole thing” – along with Coghlan.
“For right now, I thought it was the right thing to do for today,” Maddon said.
Maddon praised Castro for how he handled the news, but also conceded there’s a concern about losing him mentally and emotionally.
“That’s why you have to be really two things – careful and honest. Careful how you do it; you can’t be cavalier about making moves like this. And when you do you have to be up front with the guy you’re doing it with,” Maddon said. “You don’t paint any kind of obscure picture that he has to read between the lines. You be very upfront about it.
“He’s a man. He can deal with it. We’ll be better for it. He’s going to be better for it too,” Maddon added. “Yes, you’re always concerned about the emotional component but at the end of the day it’s about the Cubs winning.”
Note: Matt Szczur was optioned to Iowa to make room for Montero.