Cubs motor onto sweep of Cardinals thanks to 'The Ian Happ Game'

Cubs motor onto sweep of Cardinals thanks to 'The Ian Happ Game'

Before Sunday night's game, Joe Maddon had a simple message on Ian Happ:

"Let's see what happens tonight. He's gonna get hot again. That's just who he is. That's his DNA.

"If you're concerned about him, don't be."

The rookie backed up his manager's vote of confidence, leading the Cubs to a sweep of the Cardinals with a 7-6 victory that could go down as "The Ian Happ Game."

Happ gave the Cubs the lead with a homer just inside the foul pole in the third inning. After the Cardinals came right back with four runs of their own, Happ took matters into his own hands and gave the Cubs the lead again with his second homer in as many innings.

This one was a two-out shot into the right-field bleachers and sent the 39,868 fans at Wrigley Field into an absolute frenzy.

The only louder cheer than the response to Happ's second homer was when he was pushed out of the dugout by his teammates and responded to the crowd's demand for a curtain call.

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Happ stroked 842 feet worth of homers, averaging 109 mph off the bat between the two blasts.

"The guy's got tools, man," Maddon said. "He's got tools and he's got a good baseball mind. Yeah, he's gonna strike out and yeah he's gonna look bad sometimes, but man, when it all comes together, you're really gonna enjoy it."

Three of Happ's four big-league homers have come against the Cardinals and he raised his OPS nearly 100 points on the evening (from .748 to .839).

Jon Jay and Albert Almora Jr. chipped in off the bench with pinch-hit RBI knocks to account for the rest of the Happ-less (not hapless) Cubs offense.

The Cubs' sweep was their first of the Cardinals at Wrigley Field since April 2006.

Nationals 'love' Kris Bryant but potential holdup could stymie trade talks

Nationals 'love' Kris Bryant but potential holdup could stymie trade talks

With Anthony Rendon officially joining the Angels, the Nationals have a vacancy at third base.

Washington has options to replace Rendon; Josh Donaldson is still available in free agency, and Cubs third baseman Kris Bryant could potentially be had via trade.

The Nationals have reportedly inquired with the Cubs about Bryant, and while they “love” the 27-year-old, their focus is on Donaldson, according to MLB Network’s Jon Heyman. The Cubs would likely seek center fielder Victor Robles in a deal, a holdup on Washington's end, Heyman said.

From the Cubs perspective, it would make all the sense in the world to ask for Robles. He’s 22 years old, plays excellent defense (22 DRS in 2019, No. 1 in MLB by center fielders) and is only scratching the surface as a big-leaguer. Robles is projected to be a star, but Bryant already is one. If the Nationals want Bryant badly enough, they’ll have to sacrifice talent in a deal.

On the other hand, it’s easy to understand why Washington would be unwilling to trade Robles, who's under team control through 2024. Bryant will hit free agency after 2021, but if he wins his ongoing grievance case, he'll hit the open market after next season.

Nonetheless, if the Nationals do engage in Bryant trade talks, you can bet the Cubs will at least ask for Robles in return. A trade could be worked out without him, but for a Cubs team searching for better center field production, you've got to wonder who could be more enticing than Robles.

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Willson Contreras and his boundless energy join Cubs All-Decade Team

Willson Contreras and his boundless energy join Cubs All-Decade Team

With the 2010s coming to a close, NBC Sports Chicago is unveiling its Cubs All-Decade Team, highlighting the players who made the biggest impacts on the organization from 2010-19.

It didn’t take long for Willson Contreras to introduce himself to Major League Baseball. On the first pitch he saw as a big-leaguer, the Cubs catcher cranked a two-run home run to center field — on Sunday Night Baseball, nonetheless.

That moment was a sign of things to come for Contreras, who has since established himself as one of the best catchers in baseball. The 27-year-old holds a career .267/.350/.470 line with a 117 wRC+ and 67 home runs in four seasons. He’s started back-to-back All-Star Games, the first Cubs catcher to do so since Gabby Hartnett (1937-38).

Contreras offers so much to the Cubs besides his bat. His cannon of an arm and athleticism behind the plate are integral to the Cubs controlling opposing run games. His pitch framing is a work in progress, and admittedly, he could improve in this area by throwing behind runners less, ensuring he gets strikes called.

However, back-picking is part of Contreras’ value. He may lose some strike calls by not sticking a frame, but there've been plenty of occasions where Contreras' arm has provided the Cubs with a spark. His boundless energy is unmeasurable, but its importance to the Cubs — who feed off of it — cannot be overstated.

There are areas where Contreras can improve, and that's a scary thought. But he's already is one of the best backstops in baseball and has earned the starting catcher spot on our Cubs All-Decade Team.

Also considered: Welington Castillo, Miguel Montero, David Ross, Geovany Soto