Cubs: Is Jason Heyward pressing after signing $184 million contract?

Cubs: Is Jason Heyward pressing after signing $184 million contract?

Jason Heyward didn’t dispute the idea he might be pressing, trying to do too much, the same way Jon Lester felt the weight of the richest contract in franchise history during his first season with the Cubs.

“You could say it’s a little bit of all of the above,” Heyward said during the middle of Wednesday’s day-night doubleheader against the San Diego Padres at Wrigley Field.

Beyond the eight-year, $184 megadeal, Heyward developed a nagging right wrist issue in early April that may or may not have sapped some of his power (zero homers through his first 131 plate appearances).

Heyward’s 6-foot-5, 240-pound frame and high-maintenance swing also take time to get into a rhythm. His adjustment period with the St. Louis Cardinals last April (.611 OPS) didn’t stop him from finishing with another superb all-around season (.293 average, 13 homers, 23 stolen bases and his third Gold Glove in right field).

“To be honest, I think I was doing the same thing at the same time last year,” Heyward said. “I’ve been a slow starter. I’ve done that before and bounced back. When you look back, nobody’s thinking about April or May.”

Lester survived a rough April (6.23 ERA) and the yips to make 32 starts and post 205 innings for a 97-win team, finishing with a misleading 11-12 record, a 3.34 ERA and 207 strikeouts. The Cubs got very good returns in the first season of a six-year, $155 million contract and Lester still looks visibly more comfortable now.

Heyward signed here as a supporting player and has been able to blend into the background more than Lester. Heyward picking Chicago’s young core over The Cardinal Way didn’t carry the same symbolism as Lester’s decision to join a last-place team.

“Handling failure is part of the game,” said Heyward, who still plays outstanding defense, runs the bases with heads-up aggression and makes pitchers work near the top of the order. “I just want to help my team – just like everybody (else) in here.

“That’s what’s made us so successful so far. I’ve been hitting some balls hard, I’m having some good ABs and they’ve been going at people. But I don’t really care (about) my numbers, per se. I just care about trying to help the team.”

The Cubs still reeled off the best start since the 1984 Detroit Tigers team that won a World Series title. Imagine what this would look like if Heyward hadn’t been hitting .212 with a .572 OPS.

“I think he’s going to turn around really soon,” manager Joe Maddon said. “It’s just a matter of time. He’s gone through this before. His work is impeccable. He’s really good. So it will catch up.”

Podcast: Albert Almora Jr. dishes on his role and the Cubs’ unsung hero that keeps things loose behind the scenes


Podcast: Albert Almora Jr. dishes on his role and the Cubs’ unsung hero that keeps things loose behind the scenes

Albert Almora Jr. joins Kelly Crull on the Cubs Talk Podcast to weigh in on a variety of topics, including his budding bromance with rumored Cubs target Manny Machado, his expanded role and how he spends his time off away from the ballpark.

Plus, Almora has a surprise pick for the organization’s unsung hero, stating the Cubs would’ve never won the World Series without this guy.

Listen to the full Cubs Talk Podcast right here:

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."