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Happy with a loss? You should be

CHICAGO -- OK, happy might be a strong term, but there were plenty of positives in the Chicago Cubs' just-completed 2-4 homestand. You simply need to ignore the negatives, because most of them don’t matter.

First off, Starlin Castro just might be back to his old self.

“Castro is probably as hot as [Emilio] Bonifacio is now,” Pittsburgh Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said after his team’s 5-4 win over the Cubs on Thursday. “This kid is looking like the player that first came up. I mean, balls off the plate, balls down, balls up, barreling balls. He’s fighting at-bats.”

Castro had three more hits on Thursday, raising his batting average to .342 after starting the season 0-for-9. He hit .500 (12-for-24) on the six-game homestand, and, considering he missed all of spring training, that 0-for-9 doesn’t really count.

“I feel really good at the plate,” Castro said after the game.

First baseman Anthony Rizzo is just as hot. He also hit .500 on the homestand while continuing to go the opposite way and is hitting lefties better than ever. His on-base percentage through nine games is .463.

“They look like they’re having fun coming out to the ballpark, playing the game,” Cubs manager Rick Renteria said.

That’s a statement former manager Dale Sveum never made, not with the struggles that Rizzo and Castro endured last season. This is why you can smile if you’re a Cubs fan -- even in a loss. Players who are considered core or possible core guys are starting to come through.

Travis Wood threw six great innings on Thursday, newcomer Mike Olt hit his second home run of his career on Tuesday and Bonifacio is tearing up the league. Junior Lake also homered on Tuesday. When the bullpen blows a game, it hurts, but the long-term implications are meaningless. Consider this: Not one reliever has a contract past this season. When the Cubs turn the corner as an organization, they might employ seven new faces down in the pen. That’s the least of their worries right now.

“At the end of the day, we want better results,” Renteria said.

Everyone does, but those results won’t come until individuals take the proper steps in their careers. When the Cubs lose because of Castro and Rizzo -- as they did a lot last season -- that’s of concern. No offense to pitchers Brian Schlitter or James Russell -- they lost the game for Wood on Thursday -- but their losing effort is just not as big of a deal.

It’s hard to see it through the fog of a 3-6 start, but major strides are being taken early in this season. No one knows if it will happen for sure, but if the Cubs do become a contender, moments like this past homestand will be looked back on as a building block.

The losses might pile up, but if production continues from the people who matter, then the Cubs are actually making strides. It sounds crazy, but it was a winning 2-4 homestand.