Cubs

With this offense, Cubs don’t need John Lackey’s edge (yet)

With this offense, Cubs don’t need John Lackey’s edge (yet)

John Lackey’s edgy attitude will cause friction at some point this season. He’s a bulldog pitcher with two World Series rings and more than 13 years of big-league service time.

But that side is harder to see when the Cubs are putting football halftime scores up on the board.

“You’re not going to hear me complain about hanging out and watching guys score runs,” Lackey said after Wednesday’s 9-2 win over the Cincinnati Reds at Wrigley Field. “I promise you that. I’ll sit there and get a coffee and wait as long as they want to hit.”

[MORE: How and why Cubs built AL lineup for Wrigley]

Lackey began the game by escaping a no-outs, bases-loaded jam with only one runner scoring — and then chipped in with an RBI single during a five-run first inning that in total took almost 50 minutes to complete.

The Cubs gave Lackey some breathing room — the same way they did during last week’s 14-6 win over the Arizona Diamondbacks at Chase Field — and that should lead to a better return on their two-year, $32 million investment.

“The guys made it a lot easier on me,” said Lackey, who gave up two runs in 6.2 innings. “This lineup’s deep. Looking from the other side as a pitcher, it’s tough to get through without suffering a little bit of damage.”

Getting in cruise-control mode should help Lackey through his age-37 season — after throwing almost 230 innings for the St. Louis Cardinals last year — and into the bright lights of October.

[SHOP: Gear up, Cubs fans!]

“I like edgy,” said manager Joe Maddon, the Anaheim Angels bench coach when Lackey beat the San Francisco Giants in Game 7 of the 2002 World Series. “I love the counterbalancing personalities within our clubhouse.

“In any clubhouse John walks into, he’s going to provide that for you. I’ve known that for a while. But then again — game over — you’ve never had a bigger sweetheart in your life. It’s just John on gameday. He’s a cowboy, he’s competitive and he’s edgy.”

That’s what bothered Cubs fans when he pitched for the Cardinals, but he got a nice ovation walking back to the dugout in the middle of the seventh inning, tipping his cap to the crowd of 36,496 at Wrigley Field.

“It was awesome,” Lackey said. “The atmosphere has been sweet. Even Opening Night, when we won the game, everybody’s singing the song and stuff. It was really cool.”

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

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USA TODAY

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."