9/29/2013 5:45 P.M. ET
Castro happy with how he finished season
By Carrie Muskat / MLB.com
ST. LOUIS -- It was a disappointing season for Cubs shortstop Starlin Castro, who heads home to the Dominican Republic on Tuesday, happy with the way the year finished.
"I tried to finish strong," Castro said on Sunday. "I know it's a bad year. But what I'm looking for is how I'm feeling right now -- I feel like my old [self], I feel pretty good at the plate, and that's how I'm trying to finish so I come back next year with the same intensity."
The shortstop began this season with a career. 297 average in the big leagues, but headed into Sunday's game batting .246. This month, he's batting .269, and was hitting .270 in 39 games in the leadoff spot. Castro will work with strength and conditioning coach Tim Buss in the offseason in the Dominican.
"I think next year, I'll have a strong mind," Castro said. "It's bad because it's a bad year, but I think it's good because I learned a lot. I never had a bad year, and I think this has been important for me to [make] my mind strong and grow more."
Cubs manager Dale Sveum said both Castro and first baseman Anthony Rizzo learned about themselves and how to deal with slumps and adversity this season. There have been highs and also lows, such as the Aug. 17 game when Sveum benched Castro after the shortstop's mental gaffe led to a run scoring in a loss to the Cardinals.
Does Castro want Sveum back as manager?
"Yeah, why not?" Castro said. "But it's not my decision. I think he's OK."
The Cubs did try to change Castro's hitting style, but his struggles at the plate resulted in letting the shortstop "be me," as he said. He described his relationship with Sveum as "good, nothing bad."
"I want to be me," Castro said. "I know I make errors, I know I make mistakes, and I paid for this. But I want to be like me. I don't need pressure on myself, just play baseball. That's what I need. Let me play baseball, and I'll be all right."
It's business as usual for Sveum amid talk of future
ST. LOUIS -- Dale Sveum made out the Cubs' lineup card for Sunday's game as he has for much of this season, not knowing if it's his last one.
"Like I said the other day, you'd be lying if you didn't have anxiety about what's going to happen in 24 hours," Sveum said on Sunday. "That's human nature."
Theo Epstein, Cubs president of baseball operations, will meet on Monday in Chicago with the manager and some of the coaching staff to discuss their status. It's part of the evaluation process Epstein is doing. If Sveum is anxious, he hasn't shown it.
"You try [not to]," Sveum said of keeping a low profile. "There's obviously frustrations [with the season]. But my personality -- I can get as [ticked] as anybody [about the difficulties]. But the focus should be on the players anyway. There's something wrong if I'm seen too much. That's my personality. I am what I am."
It isn't just Sveum who will find out Monday, either.
"Theo's still evaluating [the coaches], too," Sveum said. "He didn't specifically say he was evaluating me, but evaluating the whole staff situation."
The Cubs will finish with at least 90 losses for the third straight season, the second in a row under Epstein and with Sveum at the helm. The Cubs have used a franchise-record 56 players this year, and only 12 remained on the roster for Game 162 who were present for the first game.
Sveum's fiery side was revealed during the Cubs' last series in Milwaukee from Sept. 16-18, when he was caught on camera in the dugout arguing with pitcher Edwin Jackson. The next day, Jeff Samardzija was seen arguing with coach David Bell in the dugout. Epstein called those incidents "brushfires," and complimented Sveum because they were the only such incidents during his two years at the helm.
"It happens," Jackson said on Sunday about the argument. "In families, there's nobody who has brothers or sisters who hasn't been in an altercation with a brother or sister. It happens in other sports. But when it happens in baseball, it's the less aggressive sport than other sports, and sometimes it's made to be a big deal.
"You see a first-place team, a playoff team [like the Braves], and it happens (referring to Atlanta's dugout tussle on Saturday between coach Terry Pendleton and Chris Johnson ). I'm sure they talked it over the next day. I'm sure it's happened with plenty of players and managers, and they make up the next day."
As to whether Jackson wants Sveum back, the pitcher deferred to Epstein and the front office.
"It's my first year with the organization," Jackson said. "That's a decision for those guys on top to make. My job is to go out and take the ball every fifth day to give the team a chance to win."
Sveum has met with each of the players -- either with Epstein and general manager Jed Hoyer present, or just Hoyer -- to review the season and talk about next year. Sveum said his relationship with the front office has been good.
"Theo was honest with everybody that there's an evaluation going on with all of us -- myself included with the coaches," Sveum said. "That doesn't change your relationship with anybody. It's my job to do what I do, and Theo's job to do what he does. Just because there's an evaluation going on doesn't change anything."
It's impossible to predict the Cubs' lineup for 2014. Sveum will find out on Monday whether he'll be part of the continued rebuilding process.
What was on his mind as he prepped for Sunday's season finale?
"The same thing that was on my mind yesterday," Sveum said. "Obviously, it's the last day, so it's a little different than any other day with the players. You know it's the last day of the season, and you're going to play it out and hopefully win a ballgame."
• Junior Lake has retired from being an infielder.
The rookie, who came up in the Cubs' system as a shortstop and third baseman, told Sveum that he will focus solely on the outfield, and not play infield anymore -- starting in Winter League play in the Dominican Republic.
"In his terms, he's retired [from the infield]," Sveum said on Sunday. "That's his quote."
• The Cubs rank 14th in the National League in on-base percentage, and that's a stat Sveum would like to see improve next year -- especially since they are eighth in slugging percentage. The Cubs also lead the National League in extra-base hits and have the second-most home runs in the league. They just can't get anyone on base ahead of the hits.
"The bottom line is the on-base percentage," Sveum said of the team's offensive struggles this year. "We've slugged plenty, but haven't had the people on base to have crooked numbers up there consistently."
• Rizzo doubled in his first at-bat in the first on Sunday to become the first Cubs left-handed hitter to reach 40 doubles since Mark Grace had 41 doubles in 2000. Rizzo finished with 65 extra-base hits this season, the most by a Cubs left-handed hitter since Grace had that many in 1999.
"I'm going to take a lot of positives out of this year," Rizzo said. "The only thing people are going to ride me on is the average, but things could've been different there. Things didn't go my way sometimes, but that's the game of baseball. I'm not happy about that at all, but I'm going into the offseason pretty confident I can hit .300 and do all the other things, as well."
Rizzo, who finished with a .233 average in his first full season, and Nate Schierholtz (32 doubles) are the first Cubs left-handed-hitting teammates to each reach 30 doubles in the same season since Jacque Jones (32 doubles) and Juan Pierre (31 doubles) in 2006.
In May, Rizzo signed a seven-year, $41 million contract extension. That didn't affect his hitting.
"One of the goals at the beginning of this year -- and it was the same last year -- was to be the starting first baseman for the Cubs," Rizzo said. "Obviously, now it'll be for a few more years. Like I said when I signed it, it's security. I get to play baseball and don't have to worry about anything else except playing baseball."
• Castro totaled 666 at-bats, most in the National League. Baltimore's Manny Machado led the Majors with 667 at-bats.
• The Cubs finished 25-51 against the NL Central, matching the Astros for the lowest winning percentage by any team in its own division. Chicago went 7-12 against St. Louis, 5-14 against Cincinnati, 6-13 against Milwaukee, and 7-12 against Pittsburgh. It's the first time they've finished with double-digit losses against four teams since 2002.
Carrie Muskat is a reporter for MLB.com. She writes a blog, Muskat Ramblings, and you can follow her on Twitter@CarrieMuskat. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.