After a pair of bullpen meltdowns, the Cubs have now won five straight and are back in first place. Included in this stretch, Nicholas Castellanos homered in the first inning three straight games. He's been on fire basically since he joined the team and has become a major spark on an inconsistent offense.
On July 31, the Cubs acquired outfielder Castellanos right at the trade deadline. At the time, I liked the deal. Here's what I wrote in trade deadline winners and losers:
The day began with Castellanos in the lineup for a team that is 31-72 and he's going to be a free agent after the season. It's all relative, because playing baseball for a living would be pretty damn awesome, but to show up to the ballpark every single day knowing your team is probably going to lose wouldn't be great. Now he gets moved to a team that has made the playoffs four straight seasons and is right in the middle of the race this season in the Cubs. Also of note: Comerica Park suppresses home runs and we're past the part of the year in Wrigley Field is cold and often has the wind blowing in. He'll get plenty of hot games with the wind blowing out to pad that home run total in front of free agency.
Little did I or anyone know how true this would ring. He has said in interviews that he's felt rejuvenated with the move to a contender and has multiple times mentioned how fun it is playing in a packed and raucous Wrigley Field, where the Cubs play like world beaters (they are now 44-19 at home). He's been brought to tears when talking about his relationship with manager Joe Maddon:
Nick Castellanos is incredibly emotional after hearing what @CubsJoeMadd had to say about him as a person and a baseball player.— 670 The Score (@670TheScore) August 20, 2019
Castellanos, while crying: “This is why I don’t have a radio show, man, damn.” pic.twitter.com/2die4ahlWZ
He even seems to have a little Maddon in him when it comes to philosophy of the game. Every single day is Opening Day? Deep thoughts with Nick Castellanos (more on that here):
Nick Castellanos tells Joe Maddon "Happy Opening Day" before every game— Rick Tarsitano (@RickTarsitano) August 21, 2019
I asked him why
"Prove to me it's not"
"If what has happened is a memory and whats going to happen is a thought, you're taking yourself out of right now. So in that case, every day is Opening Day" @WGNNews pic.twitter.com/Bzn37s2Eiu
He's showing far more emotion on the field than he did in Detroit. Just look at his reaction to Kris Bryant's go-ahead homer in the bottom of the eighth on Wednesday night:
Live every day like it's Opening Day.#EverybodyIn pic.twitter.com/hOOSthEL0W— Chicago Cubs (@Cubs) August 22, 2019
He's having the time of his life. And who could blame him?
He's playing the best he's ever played, too. In 20 games with the Cubs before going 0 for 3 in Thursday afternoon's 1-0 duel, Castellanos was hitting .392/.429/.785 with seven doubles, eight homers and 12 RBI. He's been their best and most consistent hitter, securing the all-important two-hole on an everyday basis. This is a lineup with mid-ballot MVP candidates Javier Baez and Bryant, not to mention stud power hitter Anthony Rizzo, who is completely on fire right now.
Somehow, the guy who was hitting .273/.328/.462 (104 OPS+) at the trade deadline for the worst team in baseball all of a sudden feels like the spirit animal of a team that has made the playoffs four straight years and won a World Series in that span with a similar position-player core. Funny how things work out, huh?