The Rundown: Big Stick Nick Hammers Brewers, Cubs One Game Out, Reinforcements Coming

Nicholas Castellanos is a writer’s dream. I cannot remember the last time I saw a professional having so much fun playing baseball. I don’t think even Theo Epstein knew he was acquiring a player that would fit in so well with this teammates and with the team’s fans. His love for the game is beyond palpable.

“This is a reality show in the making,” said Joe Maddon after yesterday’s game. “A much more productive one.”

“I don’t really have an explanation. I didn’t mean to [slam the bat] or anything,” Castellanos explained. “It just came out. I dunno, that’s just how I felt like expressing myself in that moment. I was looking to the guys and doing what I did.”

Just when you think you’ve seen the best Castellanos has to offer, he goes out and does something even more improbable. Thanks to Big Stick Nick, the Cubs were up 2-0 yesterday before Brewers’ starter Chase Anderson threw his fourth pitch of the game.

Cubs hitters took note of Anderson’s penchant for getting the ball up in the strike zone yesterday and swung at the 10 of the starter’s first 15 offerings, putting four in play. The aggressiveness didn’t stop there. The Cubs plated three more runs in the 2nd inning, thanks to an RBI double by starting pitcher José Quintana and a second home run by Castellanos, a no-doubter that inspired the bat slam in the GIF above.

Big Nick Energy was so dynamic yesterday that an 8th inning 413-foot home run by Kyle Schwarber to put the Cubs up 7-1 seemed almost mundane. It’s also the only time you may read the word “mundane” in a sentence describing any accomplishment by Schwarber.

That’s how the game ended, as Chicago cruised to its fourth straight victory, closing to within one game of the idle Cardinals. Yup, it’s a bona fide race again for those of you who threw in the towel after the Nationals swept the Cubs last weekend.

There’s little doubt Castellanos is having the time of his life since being rescued from the Tigers at this summer’s trade deadline. To think he came to the Cubs with just a few seconds left before that deadline expired. Where would the Cubs be right now if Epstein has hesitated?

All Nicky Two Bags has done since donning his #6 Cubs jersey — a tribute to his son and former Tigers professional hitter Al Kaline — is hit 11 home runs with nine doubles and 20 RBI in 27 games. It’s the most home runs by a Cubs player in his first calendar month with the team, and only Justin Upton has hit more in his first month with a team, knocking out 12 with the Braves in April 2013.

Castellanos has worked with Kaline since he became a professional, and the Hall of Famer is most responsible for converting his prodigy from an amateur third baseman to an everyday big league outfielder.

There’s only one thing Big Nick can do to top everything he has accomplished in his first month with the Cubs, and that’s to re-sign with the team this winter. Cubs Convention will be absent of any positive buzz if Castellanos is not there for Pat Hughes to introduce him as the team’s starting right fielder for 2020 and beyond. Unless, that is, the North Siders win the World Series this fall.

Reinforcements Coming

Anthony Rizzo will play first base today.

Ben Zobrist will be back tomorrow and may become the team’s go-to leadoff hitter for the stretch run.

Willson Contreras will likely be back for next weekend’s series against the Brewers in Milwaukee.

Adbert Alzolay and Albert Almora Jr. will lead the pack of roster expansion-eligible players once the Iowa Cubs finish this year’s Triple-A playoffs. I wonder if the Cubs will promote Taylor Davis? They’ll have three catchers on the roster when Contreras joins Victor Caratini and Jonathan Lucroy.

Cubs News & Notes

  • The Cubs, who have won four in a row, are now a season-high 12 games over .500 at 73-61. They are 9-3 over their last 12 games.
  • Thanks to last night’s rainout, the Cardinals will be forced to play two doubleheaders and 11 games in nine days, beginning today. Those twin bills will be played today and tomorrow against the Reds.
  • The Cubs will honor Hall-of Fame closer Lee Smith during tomorrow’s game.
  • Rick Sutcliffe is Chicago’s all-time September hero, but Castellanos may have something to say about that this year. He is really thriving on the big stage.
  • Some Cubs fans are spending most of their time during games in the park at Gallagher Way, rather than inside Wrigley Field. On game days, Gallagher is part hangout bar and day care, a seemingly impossible mix.
  • Which members of the Cubs organization are under the most pressure during the final month of this season? Epstein and Maddon are among the top five.
  • Cole Hamels takes the bump this afternoon against Brewers’ starter Zach Davies. Hamels has a 1.50 ERA and 16 strikeouts vs. Milwaukee this season. Davis hasn’t fared so well, going 1-2 with a 5.14 ERA against the Cubs this year. The Brewers have now lost six consecutive games at Wrigley Field.
  • Milwaukee second baseman Keston Hiura went on the IL this morning with a hamstring injury suffered in yesterday’s game. He’ll be out at least 10 days and possibly longer. Hiura has hit .301/.369/.571 with 16 home runs and nine stolen bases, resulting in a 138 OPS+ that ranks second on the club. That’s a huge loss for a team fighting for a Wild Card berth. The Brewers are five games behind the Cubs entering action today.

How About That!

These teams are watching their playoff chances diminish pretty rapidly, but still shouldn’t be completely counted out, even the Red Sox.

Christian Yelich has a shot at being baseball’s first 50/30 player. The Brewers’ right fielder enters action today with 41 home runs and 25 stolen bases.

Washington starter Patrick Corbin has been the best free agent acquisition of 2019. The Nationals have arguably the best rotation of any team that is playoff-eligible right now. Bryce Harper and Manny Machado are ranked 4 and 6 respectively.

The toxicology results for Angels’ starter Tyler Skaggs were released yesterday and they are equally tragic and disturbing. Skaggs was found dead in his hotel room in Arlington, TX on July 1 and an unnamed member of the organization may have been involved. Angels GM Billy Eppler said the team is “actively cooperating” with the investigation.

Twins’ shortstop Royce Lewis and Astros’ pitcher Forrest Whitley lead the list of this year’s biggest minor league disappointments.

Friday’s Three Stars

  1. Todd Frazier – Getting six RBI in a game seems almost commonplace this season, and the Mets’ third baseman accomplished the feat in last night’s 11-5 win against the Phillies. Frazier hit two three-run homers.
  2. Nick Castellanos – He’s just crushing the baseball since coming to Chicago. It will be a shock if Castellanos isn’t named NL Player of the Month for August.
  3. Hanser Alberto – The Orioles third baseman had a career day yesterday, going 5-for-6 with a home run and two RBI yesterday. Alberto is batting .647 over his last seven games.

Extra Innings

I’ll let all y’all decide, but I think I know who’s going to win…

They Said it

  • “I don’t consider myself anything other than just somebody who loves to hit – kick high, swing hard, ya know?” – Nick Castellanos
  • “What [Castellanos] has been doing is really impressive for the top of our lineup. A lot of energy. When I see him up in the box, you feel like really good things are going to happen.” – José Quintana
  • “Quite frankly, I had to Google what fentanyl was. I don’t really know much about it. You read about opioids being an issue both culturally and of course post-surgically for athletes. But I can’t say I’ve ever seen it or noticed it being a problem.”Brad Ausmus

Saturday Walk Up Song

Windfall by Son Volt – One of my favorite all-time favorite songs because of its resonating lyrics. I’d like to remind you again that I believe the Cubs will be baseball’s hottest team this month. That late August/early September wind has a way of sweeping all the team’s troubles away.

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