Positive signs for Cubs' Jackson, Castro

CHICAGO -- It’s been a rough year for numerous Chicago Cubs players. And despite another tough day on Sunday, a couple of them came out of the game feeling better about 2014.

Edwin Jackson looked to be headed toward another rough outing when he gave up a two-run homer to Freddie Freeman in the first inning. But Jackson settled down after a bad opening inning and ended up going six innings, giving up only three runs on eight hits, while striking out six and walking none.

Jackson remained positive after the game, refusing to focus on the fact that he had just picked up his major league leading 17th loss of the season.

“It’s tough to pay attention to win-loss record,” Jackson said. “You can be the best pitcher in the league and have a terrible win-loss record. It’s just the games you gave away. That’s the only thing you really look back on, the losses that were terrible. You’re gonna have some losses in there that were close where you still give your team a chance to win.”

Sunday was definitely not a terrible day for Jackson, with manager Dale Sveum calling it “one of the better games” Jackson has tossed this season. And while more is expected of the Cubs $52-million man, it’s little building blocks like this that can help Jackson stay positive and turn things around next season.

“At the end of the day, it’s just consistency,” Jackson said. “You go out and work on a consistent delivery, something just to keep you consistently throwing strikes. I’m going to work hard, just like I do every offseason and I’ll come into spring training ready to turn things around next season. It’s a game of learning. It’s been a tough year for a lot of people, especially myself, but you live and learn from it. What doesn’t kill you, it definitely makes you stronger.”

Another player who the Cubs are hoping will learn from a rough season is Starlin Castro. Castro went 0-for-4 on the day and his slash line dropped to .241/.281/.343 on the season. With his team trailing by two, Castro struck out to end the fifth with men on second and third.

However, the focus after the game wasn’t on the strikeout, but rather that Castro battled Braves starter Julio Teheran in an 11-pitch at-bat.

“He had a great at bat,” Sveum said. “So many times the hitter usually wins those battles. Whatever it was, a 10-pitch at-bat at least, he had a great at-bat. Teheran won that battle in the end.”

Over parts of the past two seasons, the Cubs have been working with Castro to improve his plate approach, hoping that some tweaks would lead to a more complete offensive threat. However, with his extended struggles, Castro said that many people -- club president Theo Epstein among them -- have told him to go back to being the player who led the league with 207 hits in 2011.

While Castro may be going back to the approach that made him one of the best young hitters in the game, the hope among many with the Cubs is that some of what was preached over the past two years still seeps into his game. Despite the result, long at-bats like the one Castro had on Sunday give hope that his approach can improve while still being the hitter he was once before.

“I feel good, every bat,” Castro said. “I feel like it’s me, like when I got my 200 hits. I feel pretty good, I look at some pitches and I think I have my timing already. Come in next year, with this timing, I think I have a good year.”

In what may become a familiar sight over the next week, the Cubs watched an opponent celebrate a playoff berth in front of them. With the Nationals’ losing the front end of a double header in Miami, the Braves secured the NL East in the middle of their game. After Sunday’s victory over the Cubs, they celebrated their first division crown since 2005 on the Wrigley infield.

Despite suffering through their third straight 90-loss season, Castro believes those types of celebrations are not too far in the future for the Cubs.

“I’m happy for those guys, they play good baseball,” Castro said of the Braves. “I think with us, it’ll be like that one day. Pretty soon.”