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Anthony Rizzo hits 2 home runs vs. Giants



CHICAGO – Cubs manager Joe Maddon looked to his right to see if there was anyone 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

CHICAGO – Cubs manager Joe Maddon looked to his right to see if there was anyone 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's also not something the Cubs are focused on right now, as there are more than five weeks left on the schedule and an NL Central crown is the goal. With a 5-3 win over the Giants, Chicago stayed half a game behind the first-place Cardinals in the division, and the North Siders currently reside in the second Wild Card spot (one game behind the Nationals).

• Box score

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

Here's a closer look at 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 Giants righty Tyler Beede soared inside and then rocketed off Rizzo's bat and found his 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 has 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 just keep playing and know 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 the right field. Typically, Rizzo uses that swing to keep plate appearances alive with the goal of kicking out a hit or drawing a walk.

While running at home this time, that hitting style 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 will get a little bit streaky with their power," Maddon said. "The difference with him is he can do other things. He can sustain good numbers because he's just a good hitter."

Castellanos keeps hitting

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

"Why isn't Opening Day today?" 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 like a mentality, if what happened is a memory and what's going to happen is a thought, you're taking yourself out of the way 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 had 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 has a record of 30 and 70-whatever, and when I got traded to be in the middle of it [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 the moment – similar to how Maddon isn't paying any attention 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."

Jordan Bastian covers the Cubs for MLB.com. He previously covered the Indians from 2011-18 and the Blue Jays from 2006-10. Read his blog, Major League Bastian and follow him on Twitter @MLBastian.


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