Cubs

Brewers could be popping champagne at Wrigley

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Brewers could be popping champagne at Wrigley

Sunday, Sept. 18, 2011Posted: 7:00 p.m.

By Patrick Mooney
CSNChicago.com Cubs Insider Follow @CSNMooney Box score Photo gallery
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Dempster: Astros didn't hit the ball hard
Quade on his ejection

After the Brewers put the champagne on ice and hand out goggles, there will be nowhere to hide inside the cramped visiting clubhouse at Wrigley Field.

With the Brewers closing in on their first National League Central title, the only question is whether the Cubs are going to stand in their way.

An 8-1 victory in Cincinnati reduced Milwaukees magic number to clinch the division to four while the second-place Cardinals were still in Philadelphia waiting to play the Sunday night game.

The Brewers have already sold three million tickets at Miller Park. Their fans should be motivated to drive down I-94 for a three-game series that begins Monday night at Wrigley Field.

(Someone else) jumping around and celebrating on your field, Cubs pitcher Randy Wells said. It leaves a bad taste in your mouth.

In early March, the Cubs went over to the Brewers complex in Phoenix and had a dugout altercation after the first inning of the fourth game in spring training. Carlos Silva never made it out of camp, and Aramis Ramirez could play his final game on the North Side during this series.

The Brewers havent imploded yet. But theyre testing the limits of their free-spirit clubhouse down the stretch.

Were going to come at them with the best baseball we got, Cubs first baseman Carlos Pena said.

Nyjer Morgan recently called out Alberta Pujols on Twitter. Francisco Rodriguez told CBSSports.com that hes not fine with only being a setup man. Prince Fielder gave an interview to TBS and said what everyone was already thinking that hes a goner.

(Ryan Brauns) one of the best players in Brewers history, Fielder told the network. The guy hits .330 every year and hes been great. Unfortunately, this might be the last year for the one-two punch.

The six years with me and him has been a good run. Hopefully, we can go out with a blast this year. Im signed through this year. But being real about it, its probably my last year (with Milwaukee).

When the Cubs signed Pena to a one-year deal last winter, speculation immediately started that theyd go after Fielder or Pujols. Penas definitely interested in another pillow contract, though no one knows who will be making those decisions at Clark and Addison.

Pena, like Fielder, is a Scott Boras client. He hasnt been worn down by playing day baseball or in bad weather or inside the Wrigley Field fishbowl. There was hardly anyone there by the end of Sundays 3-2 loss to the Houston Astros.

Pena appeared to hit his 29th home run through the driving rain in the eighth inning. It would have been the go-ahead, two-run shot off Brett Myers. At least one umpire signaled as much.

But the ball bounced somewhere off the left-field basket. The play was reviewed and overturned. Mike Quade thought the umpiring crew got the home-run call right, but argued over where the runners should be placed.

Quade wound up with his seventh ejection of the season, which leads all managers in the majors. Before the ninth inning started, everyone had to sit through a rain delay that lasted one hour and seven minutes. Its been that kind of year for the Cubs (67-86).

At this point, the Cubs are making salary drives and trying to pad their stats.

Starlin Castro now needs five hits to reach 200. Ryan Dempster is only 9.1 innings away from hitting 200 after going seven against the Astros (52-100). Dempster will get two more chances to hit that mark for the fourth consecutive season.

At least one team will have something real to play for this week at Wrigley Field. So dont expect Quade to run out any B-Team lineups.

Its our home turf, Dempster said. Theyve had a good year, but I could really care less to see anybody clinch it on our field.

Patrick Mooney is CSNChicago.com's Cubs beat writer. Follow Patrick on Twitter @CSNMooney for up-to-the-minute Cubs news and views.

Following 2019 'learning process,' Ian Happ's offensive progression key for 2020 Cubs

Following 2019 'learning process,' Ian Happ's offensive progression key for 2020 Cubs

It’s been another quiet offseason for the Cubs.

January is almost over and the Cubs have yet to commit a single guaranteed dollar to the big-league roster. After exceeding MLB’s luxury tax threshold in 2019, Theo Epstein and Co. are looking to get under the figure in 2020 and reset penalties entering 2021.

Barring any major surprises — i.e. a core player getting dealt before Opening Day — the club will return largely the same team from last season. That group has plenty of talent, but there are some question marks, like second base and center field.

A fan made waves at Cubs Convention last Saturday, reciting the definition of insanity to Epstein and Jed Hoyer during a baseball operations panel. With a similar roster in hand, why should fans expect anything different from the Cubs in 2020?

For Epstein, part of the answer lies in the continued development of homegrown players like Ian Happ.

Happ was supposed to be a key cog for the Cubs in 2019, but he was sent to Triple-A Iowa at the end of spring training after striking out 14 times in 52 at-bats. This followed a 2018 season in which he sported a 36.1 percent strikeout rate.

“He was striking out 30 percent of the time and we decided to send him down, because what we were seeing with Ian Happ, in our mind, wasn’t the finished product,” Epstein said Saturday at the Sheraton Grand Chicago. “We believe it’s the same way with a lot of our hitters, that’s there’s tremendous talent in there, but it wasn’t manifesting in major league games — which is all that matters — the way we needed it to.”

Happ was reportedly upset with the move, but his strikeout rate dropped to 26.3 percent with Iowa. After the Cubs recalled him on July 26, he posted a 25 percent rate in 58 games (156 plate appearances), slashing .264/.333/.564. He recognizes the demotion was beneficial.

“I got a lot of at-bats. I used it as a learning process,” Happ told NBC Sports Chicago Friday of his Triple-A stint. “To be able to come back and have success, it was a good way to finish the season."

Happ ended the season on a high note, slashing .311/.348/.672 in September with six home runs. He was tremendous over the season’s final eight games: .480/.519/1.200, five homers and 12 RBIs.

“Just being more aware of the ways guys were gonna pitch me,” Happ said regarding his hot September. “There’s some tweaks. For me, it was more about handling different pitches and when to use two different swings — when to be a little bit more defensive, when to put the ball in play. It led to results.”

Cubs players have been criticized in recent seasons for a seeming unwillingness to shorten up at times to put the ball in play. Their 73.8 percent contact rate in 2019 was last in the National League, though Ben Zobrist’s personal absence contributed to the low figure.

Happ posted a 71.7 percent contact rate, up from his 63.5 percent rate in 2018.

“He went through a really difficult stretch in Iowa, making significant adjustments to his approach and his swing and as a person, growing from some failure,” Epstein said. “When he came back up towards the end of last year, his strikeout rate was under much better control, he had much more contact ability.

“He wasn’t driving the ball quite the same, and then by the end of the year, he had maintained that better contact rate, was starting to drive the ball again, and it looked pretty dynamic and pretty promising for the future.”

It’s not a coincidence Happ made strides with Iowa. He got to work on his swing in an environment where he played every day. This wouldn’t have been the case in the big leagues, especially if his struggles lingered.

Happ started each of the Cubs’ last six games; he said it's huge for his confidence knowing he'd be playing every day. 

“It’s huge, it’s huge. I think that’s what everyone’s striving for in this league, is be able to [play every day],” he said. “For me, after that stretch and being able to finish strong and look back on a solid year, that’s big moving forward.”

The Cubs roster may look the same, but there’s plenty of room for internal improvement. Pitchers will continue adjusting to Happ, but he’s a better player for what he went through last season. He can take what he learned and carry it into 2020.

“So now, same player on the roster — and I understand the definition of insanity — but to expect Ian Happ to grow from what he’s gone through and benefit from the coaching that he’s gotten,” Epstein said, “and the lessons that he’s learned and the adversity that he’s gone through, and go out and be a productive player for us next year in a certain role, I don’t think is insane.”

“It’s just about sticking with the process, understanding that that’s what worked and that’s what you want to do,” Happ said. “It’s not always easy at the beginning of the year at Wrigley. It’s cold, it’s windy. The results don’t always show up. But if you’re true to the process and you keep going, by the end of the year you’ll be at a good spot.”

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Cubs Talk Podcast: It's time for a culture change for the Cubs

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AP

Cubs Talk Podcast: It's time for a culture change for the Cubs

After the Cubs Convention, fans left still uncertain about the team headed into the 2020 season. Host David Kaplan and NBC Sports Chicago Cubs writer Tim Stebbins discuss what they took from Cubs Con, the culture change that is coming to the organization and a realistic possibility that the Cubs are looking into disgruntled star Nolan Arenado.

Listen to the episode here or in the embedded player below.

Cubs Talk Podcast

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