Cubs

Does Wrigley Field culture need changing?

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Does Wrigley Field culture need changing?

When Theo Epstein came to town, he preached the need for a culture change with the Cubs here in Chicago. It's something CSN's David Kaplan has stressed for months.

But they meant within the Cubs' organization, not cultural dynamics that have been implemented for the fan's enjoyment.

Paul Sullivan of the Chicago Tribune wrote Thursday night Theo and the Cubs may be nixing one of the traditions that make Wrigley Field and the Cubs so great.

Now, to be fair, Sullivan isn't advocating -- or even suggesting -- eliminating one of the traditions, but he is simply asking "what if Theo got rid of this?"

But some of the things he suggests could go is crazy. The "Go, Cubs, Go" song? No way. Day games? Can't do it. Seventh-inning stretch singers? Unless you can find somebody as iconic as Harry Caray to belt out the lyrics every game, you can't take away a big tradition like that. The organ music? Might as well tear down Wrigley Field and move it to the suburbs.

The only one I really agree with is the "L" flag. The "W" flag is a cult favorite, but the "L" flag does nothing but let the world know the Cubs lost that day and considering they've been doing a lot of losing lately, that flag has probably had to be replaced multiple times over the past two seasons.

Sullivan brings up other things such as the phrase "Cubbies" and how that may be on its way out.

I can't imagine any of these things really has an impact on anything. Maybe some fans find them annoying. No doubt most Sox fans find just about everything on this list annoying, especially Steve Goodman's classic song.

But when I think culture change, I think more like taking pitches to extend the at-bat, not accepting excuses for mistakes, avoiding mental miscues. Not getting rid of some of the things that make going to a Cubs game so rewarding.

If Albert Pujols hits a home run into the bleachers and I'm lucky enough to catch the ball, I want the whole stadium yelling at me to "Throw it back!"

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: