Nov 10, 2023
Ian Happ swung one of the Cubs' hottest bats the first six weeks, hitting .301 with an eye-popping .462 on-base percentage. Considering he's a career .250 hitter, we probably shouldn't have expected that to continue for 162 games. While Happ did hit a first-inning HR on Monday, he is still hitting just .202 with a .244 OBP since Aug. 4. Yet, manager David Ross continues to bat Happ third in the lineup. Associated Press
And down the stretch they come!
Yes, that famous line is normally reserved for horse racing. But, wow, does it also pertain to what promises to be a fascinating final month of the season in the National League.
Chicagoans who have suffered through years of mediocrity with almost all of their teams finally have a chance to cheer on a potential playoff squad in the Cubs. (Or in the case of most White Sox fans, a chance to root for their opponents).
Many will hype up this week's three-game series with the Brewers -- which began with the Cubs' 6-2 loss at Wrigley Field on Monday -- as a pivotal stretch.
But let's be honest: The Cubs' fate will hardly be decided after Milwaukee departs Wednesday.
Every game is important down the stretch, and that's why fans had to be encouraged by the Cubs' 5-2 road trip to Detroit and Pittsburgh.
Playoff teams beat bad opponents, and that's what the Cubs did. Playoff teams typically also avoid long losing streaks, and the Cubs have been remarkable from that standpoint, losing two in a row only three times since July 3.
It's been a stunning run, especially considering this team has its flaws (most notably a tenuous starting rotation).
"Exciting time to come to the ballpark the way we've been playing," Jed Hoyer, the Cubs' President of Baseball Operations, told WSCR 670-AM Monday morning.
But now it's crunch time as 16 of the next 19 contests are against the Brewers, Reds, Giants and Diamondbacks -- all of which are fighting for playoff berths.
Here are two things that can help the Cubs join the postseason party:
The best two starting pitchers right now are Justin Steele (14-3, 2.80) and Javier Assad, who is 4-0 with a 2.86 ERA in 4 starts since Aug. 5.
Since July 7, Jameson Taillon has been close to being the guy Hoyer thought he signed in the off-season. He was off his game in the first inning against Milwaukee, however, allowing 4 runs. Christian Yelich homered to lead off the game, and Mark Canha belted a two-out, 2-run homer to make it 4-0.
Still, Taillon had been mostly sharp before Monday, which means the Cubs really have three guys who are mostly on their games.
After that, the Cubs would love to see Kyle Hendricks to regain his form (his ERA is 4.76 since July 9) and Marcus Stroman return healthy and dominant. Stroman, who has been out nearly a month with a right rib cartilage fracture, is feeling better and met with doctors Monday, according to Jed Hoyer.
If Stroman can't return, there was a promising sign Saturday when Jordan Wicks struck out nine Pirates in 5 innings in his MLB debut. It seems dangerous to put too much on this soon-to-be 24-year-old, but maybe the Kansas State product can handle the pressure of a pennant race.
Bottom line: If everyone in the rotation is at his best down the stretch, this will be one fun team to watch in October.
Ian Happ swung one of the Cubs' hottest bats the first six weeks, hitting .301 with an eye-popping .462 on-base percentage. Considering he's a career .250 hitter, we probably shouldn't have expected that to continue for 162 games.
While Happ did hit a first-inning HR on Monday, he is still hitting just .202 with a .244 OBP since Aug. 4. Yet, manager David Ross continues to bat Happ third in the lineup.
"He's played the most games and he's as consistent of an at-bat as we have on our team," Ross said. "(No matter how he's doing) you don't see a change in the consistency of the at-bat. I love the switch-hitter in front of Belli (Cody Bellinger). I love the on-base in front of Belli. I like the veteran presence, so to speak, that Ian brings."
So that's Ross' reasoning.
No matter where Happ is in the lineup, the Cubs need more out of him. Perhaps a day or two off could work wonders, as it did for Seiya Suzuki. After all, Happ's played in 128 of 131 games.
Give him a breather. Then maybe he breathes some life into this offense.Guidelines: