Rizzo, Castellanos keep on surging

August 21st, 2019

CHICAGO -- Cubs manager Joe Maddon looked to his right to see if there was someone who could help with the answer. The question posed to him prior to Tuesday's game against the Giants was whether he knew where Chicago fell within the National League Wild Card picture.

"I don't know. Where are we?" Maddon said. "When you start worrying about stuff like that, that's the trap. I believe that firmly."

It is also not something the Cubs are focused on right now, because there are more than five weeks left on the schedule and a NL Central crown is the goal. With a 5-3 win over the Giants, Chicago stayed a half-game back of the first-place Cardinals in the division, and the North Siders currently reside in the second Wild Card spot (one game back of the Nationals).

In their latest win -- one that upped the Cubs' record at Wrigley Field to 42-19 on the season -- launched two home runs, continued to win over Cubs fans and , while still fighting through his mechanics, took a step forward with a quality start.

Here is a closer look into the roles Rizzo and Castellanos played in Tuesday's victory.

Rizzo finds power stroke

Rizzo took a brief moment to watch the ball in flight, still holding his bat firmly with both hands before exiting the batter's box in the first inning. The fastball that flew from the fingertips of Giants righty Tyler Beede soared inside and then rocketed off Rizzo's bat and found its way into the sea of right-field bleacher creatures.

"He just let it fly," Maddon said. "He was in the tee box on that one."

It was only five games ago that Rizzo's sluggish slugging percentage was a justified concern.

The Cubs first baseman has four homers in his past five games (22 plate appearances), but that surge has come after he had two home runs in the previous 50 contests (203 PAs). From Opening Day through June 15 -- the stretch prior to that 50-game outage -- Rizzo had 19 blasts in the Cubs' first 66 games (293 PAs).

"You just stay the course, you know?" Rizzo said. "It's a long season. And that's what you lean on. If you start pressing to do things in this game, it usually hurts you. I've done it before. I've done it this year. I do it every year. It just does no good, so you just keep playing and know that it'll turn."

Rizzo's second home run -- his 25th of the season -- came on a 2-2 changeup from Beede in the third inning. With two strikes, the first baseman was choked up on the bat, using his secondary swing. He still launched it out to right field. Typically, Rizzo utilizes that swing for keeping plate appearances alive with the goal of eking out a hit or drawing a walk.

While it resulted in a home run this time, that style of hitting can lead to success even when the power is not there. To that end, while Rizzo's slugging percentage suffered during that recent 50-game stretch, he still posted a .291/.394/.419 slash line in that span.

"Normally, power hitters do get a little bit streaky with their power," Maddon said. "The difference with him is he can do the other things. He can sustain good numbers because he's just a good hitter."

Castellanos keeps hitting

Castellanos has said he tries to treat each game like it is Opening Day. On Tuesday, the Cubs outfielder was asked how he manages to maintain that mindset.

"Why is today not Opening Day?" Castellanos said. "Prove it to me that it's not."

The reporter then cited Chicago's record.

"Well, that's only if you believe your record," Castellanos said. "It's kind of a mentality like, if what has happened is a memory and what's going to happen is a thought, you're taking yourself out of right now. So, in that case, every day is Opening Day."

In the opener of this six-game homestand, Castellanos opened his evening with a first-inning home run to center field off Beede to put the Cubs on the board. He then added a pair of singles -- one in the second inning and another in the fourth.

Since coming to the Cubs in a July 31 trade with Detroit, Castellanos has at least one hit in 15 of 18 games, with nine multi-hit efforts and a trio of three-hit performances. The outfielder has churned out seven doubles and belted seven homers for Chicago. His 1.148 OPS is the highest in franchise history for a player with a minimum of 75 plate appearances.

Castellanos said coming to the Cubs has been rejuvenating.

"We have a lot of good guys over there in Detroit that I have great relationships with," he said. "But I mean, yeah, you could say 'rejuvenated.' Honestly, when you come from a team that the record is 30 and 70-whatever, and when I got traded to being able to be in the middle of [a playoff chase] and having a packed house, it's awesome."

Maddon said he loves that Castellanos wishes him a "happy Opening Day" before each game. It shows that the outfielder is trying to stay in each moment -- similar to how Maddon is not paying any mind to the Wild Card picture right now.

"He's really into these micro-thoughts that are good," Maddon said. "That probably helps him stay focused. It's cool."