I didn't see the Cubs and Cardinals game yesterday, but Starlin Castro had another costly mental error.
Castro's brain cramp on a popup in the fifth allowed the Cardinals to score, as St. Louis posted a 4-0 victory over the Cubs in front of 41,981 at Wrigley Field.
The Cardinals led, 1-0, when they loaded the bases with one out in the fifth against Travis Wood. Matt Carpenter hit a popup to Castro in shallow left, and third-base umpire Ron Kulpa invoked the infield-fly rule. Castro caught the ball, and seemed unaware of Jon Jay — the runner at third — who broke for home and scored on the sacrifice fly. Castro eventually did throw home, but it was too late.
Anyone who has even a passing interest in the Cubs knows that this isn't the first or second time Castro's head wasn't in the game. It's been a regular occurrence since he joined the Cubs in May 2010. Dale Sveum has gotten sick of this stuff and has said so on more than one occasion. He was upset enough at this particular play to bench Castro the rest of the game.
Sveum met Castro in the dugout as soon as the inning ended and told the shortstop he was done for the day. Castro was replaced defensively in the sixth, as Donnie Murphy moved from third to shortstop and Cody Ransom entered at third. Castro watched the rest of the game from the dugout.
"The situation is, obviously, we had a big blunder there and he lost track of what was going on for whatever reason — and I pulled him out of the game," said Sveum, who had never penalized a player like that in his managerial career.
Did Castro offer an explanation?
"There is no explanation," Sveum said. "A guy caught a ball, a popup, and the [baserunner] should've stayed at third base. That's the bottom line."
As to whether Castro will play on Sunday in the series finale, Sveum said, "I haven't gotten that far yet."
Just two months into Sveum's job as Cubs manager, he was pissed enough at Castro to threaten that they'd find someone else to play shortstop if the mistakes didn't stop. I said at that time that it was clear it wasn't the first or second time it had happened under Sveum. You don't react the way he did on the first mental gaffe.
Sveum isn't the only manager who has been ticked off by this. Castro has played under three managers in his four seasons in the big leagues. I'm unaware of Lou Piniella sounding off on the issue, but I know that Mike Quade did. Quade benched him late in 2010, sounded off on him at least twice in 2011, including this rant.
Demp wasn't as sharp as you'd want, but we set a bad tone there, and you have to stop," Quade said. "Ball's in the sun, they're communicating, 'Cassie' thought he had that all the way. … I look back at this whole game and look at that play. The sun has been in the same damn spot for however long Wrigley Field has been here, and those are the kinds of mistakes (that are unacceptable).
"There are certain ones you accept. There are other ones that have to be taken care of, and those are two talented kids in the middle of the diamond. We make enough mistakes that we need to clean them all up. But it's so important for those guys to play well in the middle. Everything goes through them."
Dale Sveum criticized Castro a few times last season and it seems even more frequently this year. I'm sure part of the increased criticism is that Castro has not been hitting at all. The reasons for this seem fairly obvious.
When a player is excelling in one area, you can more easily overlook failures in another. Sammy Sosa and Barry Bonds kept jobs with their respective teams as long as they did because they were hitting quite well. They certainly weren't employed for being nice guys or beloved teammates and once that hitting declined, they were gone. Darwin Barney isn't in this game because of his hitting abilities. Once his defense declines, his inability to hit baseballs will stand out and he becomes much less useful.
Starlin Castro is no different. He hit, made stupid mistakes and it was largely overlooked. There'd only be a brief comment or tirade from the manager and that was it. Since he's not hitting, and has been so easily replaceable this year, that's no longer true. Nor should it be. Right now, he's been a below replacement level player and even guys like Donnie Murphy and Cody Ransom have proven capable replacements. When Castro was hitting the ball, there weren't any replacements available so he played.
Castro is back in the lineup today, but does anyone really think he's learned anything from this? I'm very skeptical since he hasn't done so yet and has been openly criticized a lot throughout his young career. Sveum is obviously sick of these things and based on the empty threat last year, there's just not a lot of point in continuing to be threatening about it.
Here's something you just don't hear often: it's the second time the same player has lost track of the number of outs in consecutive seasons. This just doesn't happen to my knowledge because, as they say after the first time, it just can't happen. I can count on one finger the number of players this happened to.
He's now signed to a long-term extension and is going to play. Sveum has some wiggle room, but it's not like he can replace him with Donnie Murphy. That's not going to happen. Castro knows this more than he did a year ago.
My guess is that for these screw-ups to become less of an issue, we won't see them made any less frequently. We'll just see Castro return to being the average to better than average hitter that he was. At SS, as Castro has proven, that can be valuable. I have no reason to believe things will change because he was benched mid-game.
At the same time, Castro is perhaps closer than ever to actually being replaced as the Cubs shortstop. Javier Baez is hitting the crap out of the baseball and scouts appear more confident he can stick at the position Castro currently holds. The Cubs would find another position for Castro if this happened, but maybe then it will be a wake-up call. I don't expect one until then.