Maddon, Cubs sticking with Starlin Castro in cleanup spot


Where does Starlin Castro fit in the puzzle that is the Cubs' lineup?

Castro's elite hand-eye coordination and skill set may seem best suited for the two-hole, but his low walk totals make it tough to put him there on a regular basis.

Castro found some success in the cleanup spot last season - .287 average, .772 OPS in 103 games - and that's where Cubs manager Joe Maddon has penciled the young shortstop over the last few weeks.

But Castro is hitting just .233 with a .527 OPS in the fourth spot in the Cubs lineup this year, with only one extra-base hit and five RBI in 15 games.

Before Tuesday's game, Maddon said he is planning on sticking with Castro in the four-hole for the time being and has seen some encouraging signs from Castro at the plate, even if the results aren't quite there yet.

"The thing we're trying to get away from is the rollover groundout to shortstop," Maddon said. "But overall, you gotta break it down and you also have to look at the alternatives - what would you like to do differently?

"And then, how do you protect [Kris] Bryant if you move him back down? It's always about putting the whole puzzle together. I really think [Castro]'s doing better than people want to give him credit for."

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Bryant has been thriving in the No. 2 spot in the lineup, where he's hit five of his six homers and posted a .944 OPS in 59 at-bats.

Anthony Rizzo has been putting up MVP-like numbers in the three-hole and the Cubs don't really have better options than Castro hitting behind Bryant and Rizzo.

Jorge Soler has just one homer and 10 RBI since April 13 and he's hitting .200 with a .572 OPS with runners in scoring position on the season. Maddon believes Soler - who is still a rookie - is trying too hard with runners in scoring position, getting anxious and expanding the zone.

Addison Russell just finished up his first month in the big leagues and Chris Coghlan's barely hitting above .200.

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Miguel Montero is enjoying a nice bounceback campaign with an .850 OPS, but having him hit behind Rizzo would mean back-to-back lefties, which could get tricky in the late innings with left-handed pitchers coming out of the opposing bullpen. Right now, Montero has been hitting fifth - behind Castro - when the veteran catcher is in the starting lineup.

Castro entered play Tuesday with a .265 batting average, which represents his lowest mark since Opening Day. But he's still on pace for 86 RBI despite only seven extra-base hits (four doubles, three homers) to date.

The Cubs still don't know where Castro ideally fits in the lineup, but for the time being, he has a chance to do some damage hitting behind Bryant and Rizzo.

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