Cubs

Clayton Kershaw can't believe how many pitches Cubs made him and Zack Greinke throw

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Clayton Kershaw can't believe how many pitches Cubs made him and Zack Greinke throw

The Cubs' young hitters haven't produced consistent results yet, but they've still made an impression on a couple of Cy Young winners.

When the Cubs faced Clayton Kershaw and Zack Greinke in back-to-back games at Wrigley Field last month, they wound up beating both Dodgers aces.

But it wasn't just the losses that stuck with Kershaw. He was shocked at how many pitches he and Greinke had to throw.

[RELATED - Cubs taking a novel approach to Addison Russell's development]

Kershaw - who has won the ERA title in the National League for four straight seasons - had to throw 105 pitches in seven innings against the Cubs on June 22. Greinke - who hasn't given up a run since June 13 (a span of 43.2 innings) and currently leads the world with an absolutely absurd 1.30 ERA - shut the Cubs out on June 23, but only lasted six innings because he was forced to throw 100 pitches.

"Good lineup. You think a young lineup, you think a little reckless, swinging at balls in the dirt, but they worked pitch counts," Kershaw said before the MLB All-Star Game last week. "Zack and I both had over a hundred pitches by the time we came out of the game.

"They worked the counts. I feel like every count was 3-2, 2-2, fouling off stuff. Really good approaches. When you do that, you're gonna strike out some because you're working the count, but at the same time, you're gonna get starters out of the game early and you're gonna have a lot of RBI situations with walks and good at-bats.

"For having such a young team, they have a good approach."

The Cubs have three rookies (Kris Bryant, Jorge Soler, Addison Russell) in their everyday lineup, but all three are averaging more than 4 pitches per plate appearance (and fellow rookie Kyle Schwarber is averaging 3.86 pitches per plate appearance in his first nine big-league games).

But taking all those pitches hasn't led to results just yet, as the Cubs currently sit 11th in the NL in runs scored entering play Monday. They're also 10th in OPS (.687) as a team and 13th in the league with a .239 batting average.

[MORE: Cubs waiting to see if Schwarber is ready to catch Arrieta]

Like Kershaw said, that patient approach will lead to strikeouts, as Cubs hitters have whiffed 827 times, 50 times more than the next NL team (Padres - 777) and behind only the Houston Astros in Major League Baseball.

Still, it gives the Cubs opportunities to get into the bullpen and chase elite starters like Kershaw and Greinke out of the game earlier than normal.

How Ian Happ got his groove back at the plate

How Ian Happ got his groove back at the plate

There's a legit case to be made that Ian Happ has been the Cubs' second-best hitter in 2018.

Yes, really.

Happ ranks second on the Cubs in OPS (.895), behind only Kris Bryant (.995) among regulars, though a recent hot streak has buoyed that overall bottom line for Happ.

Still, it's been a pretty incredible hot streak and it's propelled Happ back to where he began the season — at the top of the Cubs order. 

Happ has walked 10 times in the last 6 games and hammered out 3 homers in that span, including one on top of the Schwarboard in right field as a pinch-hitter Tuesday night.

Even more jaw-dropping: He's only struck out 5 times in the last 9 games after a dreadful start to the season in that regard.

"It was just a matter of time until things clicked a little bit," Happ said. "That's why we play 162 games and it's a game of adjustments. At the end of the day, it all evens out.

"Look at the back of Tony [Rizzo's] baseball card — it's the same thing every single year. That's how this thing goes. You're gonna have your ups and your downs and I'm just trying to be as consistent as I can. If I can level it out a little bit and be more consistent over a period of time, that'll be better for our team."

So yes, Happ is on the upswing right now and he'll inevitably have more slumps where he strikes out too much and looks lost at the plate.

Such is life for a 23-year-old who is still a week away from his 162nd career MLB game.

The league had adjusted to Happ and he had to adjust back, which he'd been working hard doing behind the scenes.

"I just try to get him to primarily slow things down," Joe Maddon said. "Try to get him back into left-center. And I did not want to heap a whole lot of at-bats on him. When you're not going good, if you heap too many at-bats on somebody, all of a sudden, that's really hard to dig out of that hole.

"So a lot of conversations — a lot of conversations — but nothing complicated. I like to go the simple side of things. I wanted him to try not to lift the ball intentionally, really organize his strike zone."

Maddon believes Happ had lost sight of his strike zone organization, chasing too many pitches out of the zone — particularly the high fastball.

Now, the Cubs manager sees Happ using his hands more and less of his arms in his swing, working a more precise, compact path to the ball.

The Happ experiment at leadoff was a disaster to begin the year — .186 AVG, .573 OPS and 22 strikeouts in 10 starts there — but all the same tools and rationale exist for why Maddon likes the switch-hitting utiliy player in that spot.

And that's why Happ was leading off Wednesday with both Ben Zobrist and Albert Almora Jr. getting the night off.

"We're gonna find out [if he can stick at leadoff]," Maddon said. "I just thought he's looked better. He's coming off a nice streak on the road trip. [Tuesday night], pinch-hitting. I know the home run's great and of course that's nice.

"But how he got to the pitch that he hit out, to me, was the important thing. Got the two strikes, took the two borderline pitches and then all of a sudden, [the pitcher] came in with a little bit more and he didn't miss it.

"That's the big thing about hitting well, too — when you see your pitch, you don't either take it or foul it off. You don't miss it. He didn't miss it."

Baseball Night in Chicago Podcast: Who has more fun on the diamond, Javier Baez or Yolmer Sanchez?

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USA TODAY

Baseball Night in Chicago Podcast: Who has more fun on the diamond, Javier Baez or Yolmer Sanchez?

Ozzie Guillen and David DeJesus join Leila Rahimi on Wednesday's podcast. After Tuesday's game-winning hit and second self-inflicted Gatorade bath the guys wonder if anyone has more fun on the field than Yolmer Sanchez. Jim DeShaies joins the conversation and brings Javy Baez to the table.

Plus, Manny Mania continues to swirl in Chicago. Finally, what should be the White Sox plan for calling up their top prospects?

Listen to the full Baseball Night in Chicago Podcast right here: