CHICAGO -- Nick Castellanos looked like an All-Star as he coolly jogged around the bases Wednesday night at Wrigley Field.
Castellanos hit an 0-1 curveball at the bottom of the zone in the second inning, sending the pitch high into the sky before it fell harmlessly into the basket that hangs atop the left-field wall. The three-run home run and his hustle double on a blooper to left-center field that scored a run in the fourth sparked the Phillies to an 8-5 victory over the Cubs.
It shined another light on Castellanos’ bounce-back season, strengthening his case to be a National League All-Star.
“Sure, it would be cool,” Castellanos said. “But I know that there are so many decisions ... and everything that goes into it. Honestly, if we just finish strong going into the All-Star break and put us however many games behind the Braves [in the NL East] and a good spot in the Wild Card, then I’m going to enjoy the [stuff] out of the All-Star break either way.”
Castellanos is batting .314 with 24 doubles, one triple, 10 home runs, 49 RBIs and an .857 OPS this season. It has been a remarkable turnaround following a disappointing 2022 in which he posted a .694 OPS, a career low in a full season.
Castellanos said in February that, “I was just pissed off, unhappy, frustrated [last season]. Baseball wasn’t fun. It was a job.”
“Just more comfort in my surroundings, understanding where I’m at,” Castellanos said. “Making the best of it, creating relationships with the people around me.”
The Phillies survived Castellanos’ worst season last year because they got big contributions from the usual suspects like Bryce Harper, Rhys Hoskins, Kyle Schwarber and J.T. Realmuto. But Hoskins is injured this season, and Harper, Schwarber, Realmuto and newcomer Trea Turner have not produced at last season’s levels.
It makes Castellanos’ success more meaningful.
“He looks like the Nick of old,” Phillies manager Rob Thomson said. “He’s really been our most consistent hitter all year.”
Castellanos is still an aggressive hitter who chases pitches out of the zone. But he is hitting the ball much harder and more consistently. He ranks fifth in the Majors in largest increase in hard-hit percentage (balls hit 95 mph or harder) at 10.3 points (from 35.1 percent in 2022 to 45.4 percent). He is crushing fastballs, entering Wednesday batting .456 with a .647 slugging percentage against four-seamers, which is more in line with what he did as an All-Star with the Reds in '21 (.355/.780).
Castellanos batted just .270 with a .461 slugging percentage against four-seamers last year.
Asked how he is doing it, Castellanos said, “I have no idea.”
Edmundo Sosa and Josh Harrison also homered Wednesday. The Phillies needed them because right-hander Aaron Nola allowed four runs on seven hits (including two home runs) and three walks with four strikeouts in five innings. It snapped an MLB-leading 13-start streak in which he threw six or more innings.
“Five innings kind of stinks, honestly,” Nola said. “It’s too short for a starter, in my opinion.”
But the Phillies won anyway. They have won eight consecutive games on the road and are 17-5 since June 3.
Castellanos is a big reason why. He is batting .321 with an .865 OPS in that span.
“He’s so patient,” Nola said. “I think he’s getting better swings off pitches in the zone. He’s so long with his arms, so he can reach pitches on the outside corner. He can bring his hands in, as well. It’s pretty cool to watch.”
Castellanos hurried out of the ballpark on Wednesday. Maybe he wanted to enjoy a city that has treated him so kindly over the years. He is batting .374 in his career at Wrigley Field, the highest average among qualified active players.
“Just good vibes in the city of Chicago, man,” he said.