Ian Happ

Chicago's next great weatherman? Ian Happ takes spin giving forecast for The Weather Channel

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THE WEATHER CHANNEL

Chicago's next great weatherman? Ian Happ takes spin giving forecast for The Weather Channel

Chicago has a storied history when it comes to on-air television meteorologists, from Tom Skilling to Jerry Taft to Ian Happ. Wait, what?

The Cubs are in Atlanta for a three-game series against the Braves this week. Naturally, Happ visited The Weather Channel's studio (also located in Atlanta) ahead of Wednesday's game, taking a spin providing weather updates with meteorologist Alex Wallace.

Not too shabby, eh? 

The Cubs have faced inclement weather often this season, having five games get postponed due to cold weather, rain and/or snow. Having Happ in-studio makes the situation that much more ironic, if not more fun.

Cubs fans likely hope Happ has a long baseball career ahead of him. By the looks of it, though, he could be a decent weatherman once his playing days are over.

 

Theo Epstein called his shot as Cubs stop 'torturous' run

Theo Epstein called his shot as Cubs stop 'torturous' run

Theo Epstein pulled a Babe Ruth.

Just, you know, 86 years after The Great Bambino and the Cubs president didn't have a bat in his hands.

A few dozen feet from where Ruth called his shot in the 1932 World Series, Epstein called his own shot at Wrigley Field about his then-underperforming team.

Speaking with the media ahead of that game, Epstein acknowledged how difficult it's been to watch this Cubs lineup underperform for such a long stretch.

"It's frustrating," he said. "Baseball is designed to torture you. And then it makes it that much better when things happen to go your way. But a series like that [in St. Louis] can be torturous.

"... You just show up the next day, move on and we're going to be sweeping somebody sometime soon."

That all came to fruition in the 48 hours since Epstein made those comments as his team went out and did exactly what it is supposed to do against a 13-23 Marlins team that doesn't have a prayer of contending in 2018.

The Cubs battered the Marlins into submission during the three-game set at Wrigley Field, scoring 31 runs in the series while hitting .364 with a 1.097 OPS as a team. The Cubs even hit .382 (13-for-34) with runners in scoring position, an area of the game that has haunted them in the past.

It'd be easy to look at the tanking Marlins and just chalk it up to that, but remember, the Cubs offense did very little against this very same pitching staff in Miami the first series of the season.

Plus, Monday night's starter — Jarlin Garcia — entered the game leading all of Major League Baseball in ERA before the Cubs tattooed everything he threw near home plate.

The Cubs scored 31 runs in the three-game sweep, reaching double digits on both Monday and Wednesday. They managed to plate only 4 runs in Tuesday night's game, but 4 runs is still more than they could manage for 9 straight games from April 25 through May 5.

Yeah, it's the Marlins and yeah, it's just one series. But suddenly, the Cubs' season numbers don't look so bad.

Anthony Rizzo collected two more hits, putting his batting average over .200 for the first time since his second at-bat on March 30, the second game of the season against these Marlins in Miami.

Addison Russell finally homered. Kris Bryant has suddenly come on in the power department. Willson Contreras is hitting liners all over the field. Javy Baez still leads MLB in RBI. Ian Happ has silenced the doubters and stopped the questions — for now — about whether he needs a trip to the minor leagues.

Hell, we're even seeing Kyle Schwarber's name bounced around for the leadoff spot again and nobody's laughing. (For the record, Schwarber has been the only Cub who has put up consistent quality at-bats from the beginning of the season until now.)

"Just in terms of guys feeling a lot better about themselves," Bryant said. "Willson having a great game, Anthony finally getting a double. That was so fun joking around — he didn't have a double the whole first month!"

This is what we were supposed to see from this offense all along, especially on days where the wind is howling out toward the bleachers at 17 mph.

Albert Almora Jr. — who was one of four Cubs players to collect three hits Wednesday — apparently called his shot, too, telling Rizzo before Wednesday's game this team was ready for another offensive explosion.

He also has been telling the media for weeks how confident this team is and that a positive regression is coming.

"I was about to say something when [media] walked in, like 'Are you guys worried still?'" Almora joked. "But nah, you know, we're playing great and we're having a lot of fun. We're really jelling together now. Can't complain."

Things don't get much tougher for the Cubs after Starlin Castro and the Marlins leave town, either.

The White Sox — still searching for their 10th win on the campaign — come to town this weekend before the Cubs host the Braves in a make-up game next Monday, then leave for a seven-game road trip in Atlanta and Cincinnati.

The Braves woke up Wednesday morning ranked 10th in baseball in ERA, but the White Sox were 29th and the Reds 28th. In fact, apart from the four games against the Braves, the Cubs don't face a Top 10 pitching staff until June 5 when Jake Arrieta and the Philadelphia Phillies come to town.

Admittedly, June will be a tough month with three games each against the Phillies, Brewers and Cardinals plus seven against the Dodgers.

But for now, enjoy the peaks and valleys of the season when things are actually going the Cubs' way.

"Really good feeling heading into an off-day and Anthony's event [Wednesday night]," Bryant said, " and then starting up a nice series this weekend."

Why Theo Epstein isn't hitting the panic button on the Cubs' team-wide slump

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USA TODAY

Why Theo Epstein isn't hitting the panic button on the Cubs' team-wide slump

All the Cubs had to do to break out of their collective slump was face the guy who led the majors in ERA, apparently. 

That’s an amusing narrative to peddle after the Cubs roughed up Miami Marlins starter Jarlin Garcia (who'd only allowed four runs in 33 innings) for seven runs in four innings en route to a 14-2 win at Wrigley Field. More accurate, though: A team this good was bound to emerge from a barren offensive wasteland at some point. 

“I think every reasonable look at it will — you remind yourself these guys are going to come out of it,” president of baseball operations Theo Epstein said. “Rizz is going to become Anthony Rizzo again and Willson Contreras is going to become Willson Contreras. We’re due for some positive regression at some point. The guys are grinding away and trying to get there. 

“It’s natural you press, especially when everyone else is struggling around you. There’s a lot of pressing. I think that’s what you’re seeing with our at-bats right now. But we’ll come out of it.” 

Kris Bryant, Javier Baez and Ian Happ socked home runs off Garcia, and Happ added another to become the first Cubs player since 2013 (Dioner Navarro) to hit a home run from both sides of the plate. Every Cubs position player got a hit, and everyone but Contreras and Tommy La Stella (who only had one plate appearance) got on base at least twice. 

"I think we had a good approach the whole day," Happ said. "A lot of good at-bats from a lot of different guys, and for everybody who was in the game to get a hit, that was kind of the collective effort that we needed."

The 14 runs the Cubs scored on Monday were as many as they had scored during their newly-ended five-game losing streak, too. From a larger standpoint, this slump-busting game was due, but there still is more of that positive regression to the mean that seems bound to happen. 

Just look at how ridiculously far off Rizzo’s 2018 numbers are from his career averages:

Stat Career Current
Plate appearances 4,003 108
AVG/OBP/SLG .265/.365/.482 .177/.259/.302
Walk % 11.1 3.7
Strikeout % 16.7 14.8
HR/fly ball % 15.4 11.4
Hard hit % 33.0 30.9
Soft hit % 16.8 14.8

As for Contreras, he doesn’t have the thousands of plate appearances accumulated by Rizzo, but his statistical dropoff is still significant (these numbers are prior to Monday's game):

Stat Career Current
Plate appearances 833 122
AVG/OBP/SLG .271/.351/.475 .231/.320/.361
Walk % 9.6 7.4
Strikeout % 22.6 18.9
HR/fly ball % 20.9 3.2
Hard hit % 32.9 25.9
Soft hit % 23.5 18.3

If you’re tabbing two players to come out of their slumps with a vengeance, those are probably your two guys. Russell’s early-season stats aren’t all that far off from his career averages, for what it’s worth:

Stat Career Current
Plate appearances 1,617 111
AVG/OBP/SLG .240/.311/.402 .240/.306/.320
Walk % 8.3 8.1
Strikeout % 24.4 17.1
HR/fly ball % 11.4 0.0
Hard hit % 32.9 30.5
Soft hit % 23.5 24.4

And Happ notched his 500th career plate appearance Monday night, not affording him much of a sample size:

Stat Career Current
Plate appearances 499 86
AVG/OBP/SLG .248/.322/.490 .228/.291/.380
Walk % 9.2 8.1
Strikeout % 33.7 45.3
HR/fly ball % 23.7 15.8
Hard hit % 33.8 40.0
Soft hit % 20.3 30.0

From an overall standpoint, it always was unlikely the Cubs’ offense would keep struggling. That’s just baseball, and the success enjoyed by this lineup in the last few seasons meant a positive regression is more likely than not to happen. Monday night was a good start. 

“We’re last in the league in walks, that’s not going to last,” Epstein said. “We’re not going to lead the league in soft contact. We’re not going to be standard deviations worse than other teams with runners in scoring position. That’s not going to last.”

Epstein spoke with the kind of confidence you’d expect from an executive who built rosters that’ve sandwiched National League Championship Series appearances around a World Series title in the last three years. It’s worth noting the Cubs were in a similar position a year ago at this time, coming off a frustrating extra-inning marathon loss on Sunday Night Baseball (to the New York Yankees) and owning a 16-15 record. Eventually, the season turned around — a little later than those on Clark and Addison might’ve liked — in part by trusting the guys that had performed in the past would continue to do so in the immediate future. 

So that’s the same approach taken by those on and around the team in 2018: It’s too early to panic and make a rash decision that goes against all the scouting and evaluation put into constructing this roster and coaching staff in the past months and years.  

“It was easy to look at the World Series hangover thing last year,” Epstein said. “There’s no cute name for this one. It’s just struggling. 

“… It’s not pretty. We know our fans are probably really frustrated and dying and our guys care a lot. They’re pressing. We know it’s not going to last forever, and you just gotta keep grinding your way through it. There’s no easy answer, there’s nothing you can — there’s no fire and brimstone speech that’s going to turn this thing around. Just continue to work hard and one good swing for each player involved usually is the key to having them feel good and go on a tear.”