Just like the Yankees, Starlin Castro's success is no fluke

KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- There is reason to believe that Starlin Castro's start is as real as the New York Yankees' start. Castro is only 27 and already has more than 1,000 major league hits. So the fact that he is hitting .351 is not a fluke.

On Wednesday night, he and the first-place Yankees (24-13) smacked around another opponent, beating up the Kansas City Royals 11-7. Castro, batting cleanup, went 3-for-4, which included a double, an RBI and two runs scored.

The second baseman believes he could win the batting title.

“I think I can do it,” Castro said, who ended Wednesday’s game trailing Seattle’s Jean Segura, who leads the American League at .359. “I know the talent I have.”

Castro has hit .292 or better in three of his seven previous big-league seasons. He peaked at .307 in 2011. The knock on him, and why the Chicago Cubs gave him up for next to nothing before last season, is that he doesn’t do too much else. He doesn’t walk. He makes mistakes. He was a guy the Cubs deemed unnecessary for a championship ... and they were right.

But if you hit .351, you are plenty valuable. “He’s a talented hitter,” Yankees manager Joe Girardi said. “When he swings at strikes, he’s really good.”

In fact, that type of average can make the Yankees forget they used to have Robinson Cano at second base. Cano is still doing his thing in Seattle. Though currently out with a quadriceps injury, Cano is hitting .296 with eight homers and 28 RBIs in 135 at-bats. Castro’s numbers are .351 with seven homers and 26 RBIs in 154 at-bats. Castro’s OPS is .932 compared to Cano’s .895. The key stat to consider: Cano, 34, is owed another $168 million and the Mariners are committed to him until he is 40. With Castro, the Yankees are on the hook for $33 million through 2019, with a $16 million team option for 2020.

Castro gives Yankees general manager Brian Cashman a lot more flexibility going forward, particularly if super-prospect Gleyber Torres moves to second base one day in the bigs and takes Castro’s spot. But Castro is playing like he is not going to let that happen, because “he’s sticking with the plan,” Girardi said. When asked what the plan is, Girardi said, “C’mon man.”

He wouldn’t say, but the plan might be: only swing at strikes and your pitch. Castro is crushing fastballs, slugging those at a .597 clip entering Wednesday compared to .420 in 2016. He is also controlling the lower half of the strike zone. The previous two seasons, he hit .276 on low pitches, according to ESPN Stats & Information, but this season he is hitting .345 on those deliveries.

The one word of caution on Castro is that his hot start is not unusual. In March and April, he has batted .321, while in May he has swooned to .263. In June and July, he is a .256 hitter. This May, he is at .349 (22-for-63).

Castro is very young, just two years older than Yankees rookie Aaron Judge. Castro is a three-time All-Star. He might make it four times by the middle of July. His success sure doesn’t feel like a fluke.