Cubs

How Ian Happ is driven to win the next World Series with Cubs

How Ian Happ is driven to win the next World Series with Cubs

Hours after the Cubs won the World Series, Ian Happ went to work at the team’s sprawling Arizona complex, meeting minor-league hitting coordinator Andy Haines at a batting cage that November morning.

Surrounded by Cubs fans the night before, Haines had watched the epic Game 7 with Double-A Tennessee hitting coach Jacob Cruz at Culinary Dropout, a Tempe restaurant, the TV audience multiplying to around 40 million viewers. Together, they saw the organization’s first-round picks from 2014 (Kyle Schwarber) and 2013 (Kris Bryant) jumpstart the 10th-inning rally that would beat the Cleveland Indians and end the 108-year championship drought.    

Around 7:30 a.m. – while the Cubs were just beginning a World Series hangover that would last for most of this season – Happ and Haines talked about getting ready to win the next one and began early hitting before the Arizona Fall League action that afternoon.

Happ – the ninth overall pick from the 2015 draft – is so driven to make it in The Show and focused on earning a ring that he doesn’t need to see the symbolism in that moment.

“That’s my goal,” Happ said. “It just happened to be the time that we were there.”

In terms of timing, yes, Happ missed the unbelievable ride last October, seeing Schwarber up close while he trained briefly in Arizona before his dramatic, post-knee surgery World Series return and getting glimpses of playoff games on an iPad in the dugout in between innings with the Mesa Solar Sox.

But Happ maximized his opportunity in the middle of May when the Cubs dealt with the types of injuries that would contribute to their first-half funk, promoting him after only 26 games at Triple-A Iowa. Happ made his big-league debut against the St. Louis Cardinals at Busch Stadium, launched a two-run homer 413 feet off Carlos Martinez and never went back to Des Moines.  

What the Cubs initially framed as a temporary solution became a key piece to the 92-win team that is about to face the Washington Nationals in a best-of-five National League Division Series.   

“Right away,” general manager Jed Hoyer said, starting in spring training, “the veteran guys really gravitated towards him. They loved the way he worked. They loved his intensity. It’s just a really serious demeanor. He fit right in with this group immediately. He had zero assimilation process, just because of the way he carries himself and the way he takes everything so seriously.”   

During three years at the University of Cincinnati, Happ made the dean’s list five times and earned a 3.68 grade-point average as a finance major. Happ’s father, Keith, a longtime U.S. Golf Association agronomist, died of brain cancer two years ago. Happ’s mother, Mary Beth, is a Ph.D-level dean/professor at Ohio State University’s College of Nursing.

[MORE: Jon Lester not conceding anything: 'We should win the World Series']

Except for the occasional faux TV interview in the dugout, Happ maintains the same game face. He plays with an edge, internalizing the idea that the Cubs drafted him because he would be on a faster track as a college hitter and could be marketed in a deal for pitching later.

The Cubs never traded Happ for a Jose Quintana or a Sonny Gray as manager Joe Maddon started him at second base, third base and all three positions across the outfield. Happ became the fastest player in franchise history to 20 home runs (89 games) and his 24 homers are the second-most all-time by a switch-hitting NL rookie (Pittsburgh Pirates slugger Josh Bell put up 26 this season). Of Happ’s 68 RBI, 30 came with two outs. Of Happ’s 92 hits, 44 went for extra bases.

“He’s right in Joe’s wheelhouse,” Haines said. “He plays multiple positions. He can do a little bit of everything. He’s competitive. Winning is really, really important to him.”

So even if Happ’s name isn’t in Friday night’s Game 1 lineup at Nationals Park, there will be ways for him to impact not only this series, but make his mark in the playoffs as the Cubs try to become a dynasty.

“I think this team is going to be good for a long time,” Happ said in spring training. “It’s nice to be part of an organization that doesn’t feel like it’s a one-and-done situation. It feels like they’re building something here. And you’re going to have a chance to play for the pennant, for the World Series, for years to come.”

Joe Maddon is liking the look of Cubs 'backwards' lineup

Joe Maddon is liking the look of Cubs 'backwards' lineup

No matter how much people complain and Tweet, Joe Maddon will never go with a set lineup every game.

But that doesn't mean he won't let certain spots in the lineup settle in for a couple weeks in a row.

That's what may be occuring right now with Anthony Rizzo holding serve as the "Greatest Leadoff Hitter of All-Time" once again.

Rizzo made his 5th straight start atop the Cubs order Friday after collecting a pair of doubles and a walk in Thursday's 9-6 victory.

Initially, moving Rizzo from the heart of the order to the top was in part to help the Cubs first baseman get going. Maddon is a big fan of hitting guys leadoff to help them reset mentally and find their stroke again.

But it is working — Rizzo entered play Friday 8-for-16 with 5 doubles, 3 walks, 3 runs and 3 RBI in the leadoff spot over the last week. The promptly reached on a hit-by-pitch and walk his first two times up Friday.

He's also been the team's biggest cheerleader:

So how long will Maddon keep this unconventional lineup?

"I don't know," he said, smiling and shaking his head. "I don't know. He came up again in crucial moments [Thursday]. He looks really good out there. I don't know. That's my exact answer."

Yes, Rizzo is looking good in the leadoff spot, but his insertion atop the order has given the Cubs lineup a new dynamic. 

With Rizzo first and Kris Bryant second, the guys that are historically the Cubs' top two run producers are hitting atop the order and "behind" the pitcher's spot. 

But they're also the Cubs' top two on-base guys and Maddon is liking the look of Jason Heyward and Ben Zobrist — two high-contact guys — following Bryzzo in the order, as they have done recently. (It doesn't hurt to have the NL leader in RBI — Javy Baez — hitting cleanup, either.)

"It's almost a backwards way of doing this right now that I'm finding fascinating," Maddon said. "So I'm just gonna let it play for just a little bit and see where it takes us."

It's taken the Cubs on a 4-game winning streak endcapping the All-Star Break, though the Cardinals got up big early Friday afternoon.

For a team that leads the NL in just about every important offensive category, it's going to be a huge key moving forward if Rizzo gets going on a consistent basis in the second half.

Cubs bolster pitching staff with minor trade, foreshadow more moves coming

Cubs bolster pitching staff with minor trade, foreshadow more moves coming

The Cubs didn't wait long to make Joe Maddon's words come true.

Roughly 5 hours after Maddon said the Cubs are definitely in the market for more pitching, the front office went out and acquired Jesse Chavez, a journeyman jack-of-all-trades type.

It's a minor move, not in the realm of Zach Britton or any of the other top relievers on the market.

But the Cubs only had to part with pitcher Class-A pitcher Tyler Thomas, their 7th-round draft pick from last summer who was pitching out of the South Bend rotation as a 22-year-old.

Chavez — who turns 35 in a month — brings over a vast array of big-league experience, with 799 innings under his belt. He's made 70 starts, 313 appearances as a reliever and even has 3 saves, including one this season for the Texas Rangers.

Chavez is currently 3-1 with a 3.51 ERA, 1.24 WHIP and 50 strikeouts in 56.1 innings. He has a career 4.61 ERA and 1.38 WHIP while pitching for the Pirates, Braves, Royals, Blue Jays, A's, Dodgers, Angels and Rangers before coming to Chicago.

Of his 30 appearances this season, Chavez has worked multiple innings 18 times and can serve as a perfect right-handed swingman in the Cubs bullpen, filling the role previously occupied by Luke Farrell and Eddie Butler earlier in the season.

Chavez had a pretty solid run as a swingman in Oakland from 2013-15, making 47 starts and 50 appearances as a reliever, pitching to a 3.85 ERA, 1.31 WHIP and 8.2 K/9 across 360.1 innings.

"Good arm, versatile, could start and relieve," Joe Maddon said Thursday after the trade. "I've watched him. I know he had some great runs with different teams. 

"The word that comes to mind is verstaility. You could either start him or put him in the bullpen and he's very good in both arenas."

It's not a flasy move, but a valuable piece to give the Cubs depth down the stretch.

There's no way the Cubs are done after this one trade with nearly two weeks left until the deadline. There are more moves coming from this front office, right?

"Oh yeah," Maddon said. "I don't think that's gonna be the end of it. They enjoy it too much."