Cubs

Theo Epstein on DH in National League: 'We can't count on it'

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Theo Epstein on DH in National League: 'We can't count on it'

Imagine a world where Kyle Schwarber's bat is in the Cubs' lineup every single day, yet there's no concern about what position he's playing.

If the designated hitter came to the National League, that could be a reality.

Schwarber is almost built for the DH spot - a supremely talented hitter without a true defensive position.

Even apart from Schwarber, the Cubs have plenty of reason to hope the designated hitter comes to the NL.

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They have so many young hitters already at the big league level, plus a slew of other prospects on the farm making their way through the system.

Where would everybody play?

It's a nice problem to have, but Cubs president of baseball operations Theo Epstein said he and his front office aren't anticipating a major shift on the DH front anytime soon.

"We have so many hitters coming, who wouldn't mind a DH and an extra lineup spot to get another bat in there?" Epstein said on a panel during the Cubs Convention at the Sheraton Grand Chicago Saturday. "But it's above our paygrade. It's really an issue for the commissioner and the owners.

"I just think we can't count on it. There are no indications the DH is coming anytime soon. So we're planning on building with the National League rules for years to come, emphasizing defense and versatility to be able to adjust."

The Cubs have certainly built a versatile roster, with so many key players - Schwarber, Ben Zobrist, Kris Bryant, Javier Baez, Jason Heyward - able to play multiple positions.

But Cardinals GM John Mozeliak actually has the opposite stance of Epstein, saying Saturday that he believes there is "more momentum" for the DH coming to the NL:

 

 

That would certainly help the Cubs' problem, but teams like the Cardinals are pushing for it because they saw firsthand how pitchers hitting can hurt a team when ace Adam Wainwright was lost for most of 2015 tore his Achilles running out of the box in April 25.

[RELATED - Cubs: Jason Heyward takes the high road in war of words with Cardinals]

No matter which way it works out, Cubs pitchers will still have to hit in 2016 - whether that be in the No. 8 spot in the lineup again is up to the "Mad Scientist" Joe Maddon.

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."