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Chicago Cubs: Why Starlin Castro Needs to Have a Big September

Yahoo Contributor Network

COMMENTARY | As the 2013 season draws to a close, some players are chasing career milestones while others are doing all they can to carry their teams to the playoffs.

Some, however, are just trying to tread water or find their bearings after a tumultuous campaign. Like Hansel and Gretel, Starlin Castro needs to find the trail of breadcrumbs that will lead him back to the first 3 years of his career.

Let's take a look at the 5 reasons Castro must come up big in the final month of the season:

Javier Baez

While it's possible that Baez could change positions, he's currently manning SS for the Cubs' Class-AA affiliate, the Tennessee Smokies. With 37 home runs and 111 RBIs between High-A Daytona and Double-A, Baez won't be spending much more time in the minors. Though Baez has committed 44 errors (27 more than Castro), he is still viewed as a work in progress who can improve rapidly.

He's too talented not to

Starlin Castro can hit. He drove in 6 runs his debut and finished the season with a .300 average. All he did in his sophomore season was bat .307 while leading the NL in hits with 207. His average dipped all the way to .283 in 2012, but he also set career highs in steals (25), HRs (14), and triples (12). History shows that this season-long slump is more an aberration than a true reflection of his abilities.

He has a big contract, but not too big

The Cubs signed Castro to a 7-year, $60 million deal in the offseason, which gives him security but is still club-friendly. Given the wealth of talent the Cubs have already, and the obvious desire of the front office to acquire more, Castro could be a target for an older team looking for a youth movement. If he wants to remain a Cub, he'll need to pick it up over the final month.

He wants to bat leadoff

Starlin has always maintained that he prefers to bat in the No. 1 spot, though he's been moved around to nearly every spot in the lineup this season. Since returning to the leadoff role, however, Castro has hit .286 with 6 runs, 2 HRs, and 7 RBIs, all of which proves his claim that he's simply more comfortable there.

His career numbers back up this assertion as well. While he's had more at-bats in the 2 and 3 spots in the order, his batting average (.319), OBP (.362), and OPS (.821) are all significantly when he bats leadoff. The Cubs have lacked a real weapon at the top of the order for quite some time, so establishing that threat in September would be good for both Castro and the Cubs.

Like it or not, he's one of the veterans now

There are players on the team with more experience, but none who are more closely associated with the team. With the exodus of leaders like Alfonso Soriano and David DeJesus, Castro is no longer the little brother. He's made his mistakes, both on and off the field, but he's grown and matured as a man and a player and now has nearly 4 full years of big-league experience.

It's time for Starlin to step up and lead by example and that can still happen late in the season. He's been benched, bounced around in the order, and berated on message boards for laziness and lack of focus.

His play improved dramatically after Dale Sveum gave Castro his first day off in more than a year, and while it's easy to say that the manager should have made the move earlier, the player needs to be able to police himself. While it was once easy to point to youth and inexperience as excuses for lapses in judgment, those alibis are gone.

So now he's batting in his preferred spot and the team is going nowhere. He needs to spend the next 3 weeks showing that he still has what it takes to be a building block of a growing team. If he can't do that in September, it's possible that he won't be able to do it at all.

Evan Altman spent his formative years on a farm and in a sleepy town in Northwest Indiana in the days before Wrigley Field was illuminated. As a result, every summer afternoon was spent watching or listening to the Cubs on WGN, a practice that ingrained the team into his DNA. His kids are even named after the team but years of hope and frustration have made him a self-loathing, yet still unapologetic, Cubs apologist. And yes, he knows that that is contradictory.

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