Robel Garcia

Reinforcements coming for Cubs: Ian Happ promoted back to big leagues

Reinforcements coming for Cubs: Ian Happ promoted back to big leagues

As the Cubs gear up for the next week where they will play back-to-back series against the two teams trailing them in the NL Central standings, they will reportedly get some reinforcements on the roster in the form of Ian Happ.

Des Moines Register Iowa Cubs beat reporter Tommy Birch reported Thursday afternoon that Happ is on his way back up to the big leagues after being sent down to Triple-A in the final week of spring training and Cubs GM Jed Hoyer confirmed the move on 670 The Score. No word yet on what the corresponding roster move will be.

Happ got out to a rough start to the season in the minor leagues, but has turned it on of late and his overall line — .242/.364/.432 (.795 OPS), 16 homers, 53 RBI, 66 runs — looks pretty solid now. 

In back-to-back games on June 30 and July 1, Happ went 0-for-9 with 3 strikeouts and watching his season batting average with Iowa drop to .217 and OPS to .715.

But since then, Happ is hitting .348 with a 1.129 OPS and nearly as many walks (17) as strikeouts (18) while mashing 10 extra-base hits, including 5 homers.

This is exactly the type of extended hot streak the Cubs have been hoping to see from the former first-round pick.

"The attitude is fantastic. He's working hard," Hoyer said of Happ last month. "It just feels like a matter of time until he goes on a run and gets back to where he was before. We're kinda waiting on that a little bit — he's waiting on that. But given the work he's done and where he is mentally, I think that's just a matter of time."

Happ looms as one of the Cubs' top trade assets — a 24-year-old switch-hitter who can play multiple positions and already has proven he can hit with power and speed at the big-league level. 

He also represents valuable depth for the Cubs, especially if Kris Bryant has to miss any time at all in the near future with the right knee injury that forced him out of Wednesday afternoon's game in San Francisco. Happ has experience playing third base, including filling in at times for Bryant a season ago.

The Cubs just sent Addison Russell down to Triple-A Iowa Wednesday, so there is also conceivably room for Happ to see some playing time at second base, though Robel Garcia figures to remain in the picture as well.

There's also room for Happ in center field, especially against right-handed pitchers as Albert Almora Jr. has been in a funk offensively for the last couple months. 

The Cubs are struggling on the road and it's officially "go time" in a tight divisional race, so they can use all the help they can get at the moment.

Why the Cubs haven't given up on Daniel Descalso yet

Why the Cubs haven't given up on Daniel Descalso yet

Now that Addison Russell is back in the minor leagues, there's one less player in the mix for the Cubs second base picture.

So what does that mean for Daniel Descalso?

The veteran signed with the Cubs this winter to fill a valuable utility role and provide a boost inside the clubhouse. 

By all accounts, thing have played out exactly according to plan on the latter (for more on Descalso's impact on this team behind the scenes, listen to Kelly Crull break it down on our latest podcast), but the former hasn't gone according to script. Descalso has only started 38 games this year, all coming at second base, and his last start came nearly a month ago — June 30 in Cincinnati.

In fact, Descalso hadn't even seen an inning at second base since then until he was subbed into Tuesday night's game in San Francisco and stayed on the field as the contest went into extra innings.

In total, the 32-year-old has only 7 plate appearances in July as he's been banished to the bench amid his nearly three-month long struggles (he's hitting .107 with a .355 OPS since the end of April). 

"No question, it is difficult [to keep him involved]," Joe Maddon said Sunday as the Cubs wrapped up their homestand. "But he makes it less difficult. He's a professional — he's always working, he talks to everybody, he's there to support everybody else. ... He's outstanding as a person and as a teammate, so he's made it easier on everybody else, actually."

As the Cubs continue to struggle on the road amid a tight division race, it's become an everyday occurrence to see fans wondering when the team is going to designate Descalso for assignment or place him on the shelf with some phantom malady

The Cubs could clearly use another productive hitter in the lineup on a regular basis with the recent struggles from guys like Albert Almora Jr. and David Bote. Descalso came up with a bunch of clutch hits in April and posted a .762 OPS in more than 1,100 plate appearances over the three seasons prior to 2019.

Between that track record and the veteran presence Descalso provides, the Cubs have not yet reached a point where they want to give up on the left-handed hitter despite rarely using him over the last month.

Now that Russell is in the minor leagues for the near future, that might open the door to some more playing time for Descalso, though Robel Garcia has been impressive in limited duty. The trade deadline also looms as a potential shake-up to the roster of position players if the Cubs acquire another bat.

As the Cubs came out of the All-Star Break earlier this month, Maddon acknowledged he has been talking to Descalso often about the situation and knows it's tough for the veteran to stay sharp enough to even pinch-hit when he's only getting a couple at-bats a week.

"In spite of all this, the guy continues to contribute as a veteran player," the Cubs skipper said. "Not playing everyday, I watch what he does with conversation with guys. I know he's frustrated, but he really deals with it well. 

"I don't know when the breakout period's gonna come. You look back at spring training — he looked great. You look at the first part of the season — he looked great. And then he got hurt a little bit and came back and he just wasn't quite the same. I cannot put my finger on it. 

"But the guy's a professional. He's handled it as well as it could be handled or dealt with and we need to continue to work with him. ... I cannot speak more highly of him or what he's done behind the scenes with this group."

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Cubs send Addison Russell to the minor leagues to make room for Willson Contreras on the roster

Cubs send Addison Russell to the minor leagues to make room for Willson Contreras on the roster

The Cubs had to clear up a roster spot Wednesday morning in San Francisco to make room for Willson Contreras coming off the injured list.

Roughly two hours before first pitch, that move was revealed to be Addison Russell going back down to the minor leagues, the team confirmed.

Russell has had a rough go of it lately, including a miserable game last Saturday at Wrigley Field when he was thrown out on the basepaths twice and made a number of other mistakes. 

Since that day, Russell has not started for the Cubs, finding himself as a sub only in three straight contests.

On the season, he is hitting .247 with a .733 OPS, 6 homers and 16 RBI in 55 games after missing the first month while finishing out his suspension for domestic violence. He has several minor-league options remaining, so the Cubs could send him back to Triple-A Iowa without losing him to another organization.

What this means for Russell's future with the club this season and beyond is unclear. It could simply be a temporary move as the Cubs roll with three catchers now that Contreras is back from injury and Martin Maldonado is in the mix. Russell still looms as the Cubs' main backup option at shortstop behind Javy Baez and that depth is necessary at the moment in case of injury. 

In the short term, the Cubs appear to be fine with rolling out the switch-hitting Robel Garcia as the everyday second baseman with David Bote and Daniel Descalso as bench options. Garcia has started four straight games, including each of the last three at second base.

Bote began the year as the Cubs' emergency shortstop, but he has struggled defensively this year after a breakout 2018 campaign.

The Cubs also had to make a last-minute change to Wednesday's starting pitcher, as Jon Lester is ill. Tyler Chatwood will take his place in the final game in San Francisco.