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Woes of Anthony Rizzo and Starlin Castro could play role in Dale Sveum’s future

AtlantBraves v Chicago Cubs

Atlanta Braves v Chicago Cubs

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Updated: October 25, 2013 6:33AM



Of all the Cubs’ problems this season, the struggles of the team’s two marquee infielders might end up being the most critical.

Shortstop Starlin Castro and first baseman Anthony Rizzo will be baseball and marketing cornerstones for the team until — and if — the talked-about prospects arrive.

Their struggles seem to be part of the evaluation surrounding manager Dale Sveum.

Team president Theo Epstein cemented their statures with long-term contracts. Castro earned his with three outstanding seasons — two as an All Star — and 529 hits before the age of 23.

Rizzo, 24, was so valued by Epstein and general manager Jed Hoyer that they traded for him twice after first drafting him with Boston.

But each has been streaky at the plate this year, something more surprising for proven-hitter Castro. A hitting philosophy demanding more pitches per at-bat and more walks didn’t fit, and it took until last month before Castro was freed to go back to his natural approach.

His batting average was only in the .230s in late August, but he is hitting .269 in his last 13 games and .241 overall through Monday’s game against the Pittsburgh Pirates, who clinched a wild-card berth with a 2-1 win over the Cubs coupled with Washington’s 4-3 loss to St. Louis.

“I feel good now,’’ Castro said. “It’s more like when I did my 200 hits [a league-best 207 in 2011]. I look at the pitch. I feel I have my timing back. I think I’m going to have a good year next year.

“Some people can wait and take a walk. I’m not that kind of guy. I like to swing.’’

Rizzo is hitting only .231, but he likely will end the season leading the team in home runs (22) and RBI (77).

He also has 63 extra-base hits, the most by a Cubs left-handed hitter since Corey Patterson had 63 in 2004. Mark Grace was the last Cubs left-handed hitter with more — 65 in 1999.

“I think at the end of the year, it’s going to be a pretty fair year for me,’’ Rizzo said. “It’s my first time being in the majors a full year. The batting average is down a little [from last season’s .285 in 87 games], but that’s baseball.

“My goal is to be the starting first baseman for the Cubs, and that’s happened.’’

Sveum believes Rizzo’s first full season has been productive.

“It’s his first time playing every single day in the big leagues,’’ he said. “[It was his] first time playing with the pressure of hitting third every single day, for the most part.

“He’s been in tough situations as a young, second-year player, and his defense has been as good as anyone in the game. You analyze his year and it’s not as bad as everyone makes it out to be.

“We forget that everyone will have their bad year. You get through it, especially at a young age, and [in the future] you’re [thinking], ‘I’ve been through that before. I know how to get out of it. I understand the process.’ ”

Rizzo has learned something else through a difficult season that could be ending with uncertainty for his manager.

“There’s a fine line that once you step on the field, no matter what issues there are or things in the clubhouse, you’re playing for the 25 guys,’’ Rizzo said. “Everything else doesn’t matter for those three hours you’re on the field and playing the game.’’

Email: tginnetti@suntimes.com

Twitter: @toniginnetti



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