Ian Happ — he’s good, right? Not to get all Dan Patrick on you, but Happ is en fuego right now. The Cubs’ switch-hitting super utility player hit his third leadoff home run of the spring Tuesday, his second off of Madison Bumgarner, and seems to be the favorite to start the season at the top of the team’s order. Not to be outdone, Tyler Chatwood — the Cubs’ fifth starter — pitched like an ace yesterday. He’s good, too.
Tyler Chatwood tonight:
5 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 2 BB, 9 K. pic.twitter.com/AAImogahCA
— Chicago Cubs (@Cubs) March 14, 2018
When last season ended, Theo Epstein said the Cubs wanted to find someone to set the table for the team’s trio of sluggers: Kris Bryant, Anthony Rizzo, and Kyle Schwarber. The problem is, traditional leadoff guys are difficult to find and they are expensive. If Happ continues to excel, Epstein has found his solution in-house, always a good thing. The former first round pick from the University of Cincinnati is up to the task.
“I’m more comfortable, no doubt,” Happ said early in camp. “I know what to expect.”
A switch-hitting leadoff man who can go deep from both sides of the plate could make an already stacked Cubs lineup even more dangerous. There is a caveat, though. Happ’s strikeout rate was 31 percent last season and that’s going to have to come down if he wants sustained success. He’ll need to be more selective at the plate as well. He struck out three times more often than he walked in 2017.
Happ has even been seeking advice from the man whose void he’s trying to replace, former Cubs leadoff hitter Dexter Fowler.
“You have to pick guys’ brains,” Happ said. “I keep getting back to Dexter. He was always trying to get on base twice [per game]. It doesn’t matter how you do it.”
With a barrage of lead-off home runs this spring, perhaps Anthony Rizzo is helping the talented sophomore.
“My thought process going in is, it’s no different than anywhere else, I’m just going to get more at-bats,” Happ continued. “It’s a different perspective knowing you’re going to get five at-bats as opposed to three to four.”
Cubs News & Notes
Although Javier Baez has been adamant that he’s entirely healthy, the Cubs have been cautious with him since he injured his hamstring last week. He may get back into action at the end of this week, according to Carrie Muskat of MLB.com.
“We’re getting close, he’s getting close,” manager Joe Maddon said. “I don’t think it’ll be much longer. He’s doing well, the trainers are happy, he’s happy. We’re being overly cautious right now.”
The Cubs trimmed their major league roster to 40 players yesterday. Right-handed pitchers Luke Farrell, Cory Mazzoni, Alec Mills and Jen-Ho Tseng, left-handed pitchers Dario Alvarez and Rob Zastryzny and infielder David Bote were optioned to Triple-A Iowa. Two non-roster invitees were assigned to Minor League camp: infielder Chesny Young and outfielder Jacob Hannemann.
Willson Contreras is ranked third among baseball’s catchers by The Sporting News. Yadier Molina of the Cardinals, who feels the Cubs’ rising star needs to check himself a little, is ranked eighth. Contreras may be on the verge of MVP potential.
Can the Cubs dominate the NL Central this season? Bob Nightengale of USA Today believes a third straight division title is likely.
Evan Altman goes out on a limb with some bold predictions of his own for the Chicago’s 2018 season.
Smoke Daddy BBQ, opening at Hotel Zachary across the street from Wrigley Field, will offer live music with no cover this season. Additionally, children 10 and under will eat free from 11:30 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. daily — even on Cubs game days.
How About That!
The Mets announced that Noah Syndergaard will take the bump on Opening Day.
Lance Lynn struck out five in three innings in his first start with the Minnesota Twins.
“My body is in tremendous shape. Obviously, I haven’t been in a game yet but I’m a quick learner and I like my chances at getting ready.”
The Yankees reassigned top prospect Gleyber Torres to Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre on Tuesday.
Injuries continue to pile up for the Mariners. Nelson Cruz left yesterday’s game with quadricep soreness and was replaced by pinch runner Dan Vogelbach.
Hot Takes & Syrup
- You Can’t Crush His Spirit: Tim Tebow, the man who was called the ‘most famous player in baseball’ by teammate David Wright, has been cut by the Mets. He was unsurprisingly genuine.
- No Fries, Chips: A former Billy Goat Tavern employee has started a potato chip company called Billy Goat Chip Co. and is countersuing the iconic Chicago bar that in December sued the St. Louis potato chip maker over alleged trademark infringement. Cheeseburger, cheeseburger, cheeseburger, cheeseburger.
- Like Fingernails on a Chalkboard: Kevin Millar says “Illi-Noise” on the latest edition of Old Baseball Cards, a show with potentially great concept that somehow manages to lose its appeal after about 30 seconds.
- A Commitment to Mediocrity: Mariners GM Jerry Dipoto, who recently signed 44-year old free agent Ichiro Suzuki, opened a can of worms with this quote: “You could argue you’re going to compete with more clubs to get the first pick in the draft than you would to win the World Series.’’ It is a quote the MLBPA is using to wallpaper its office, much to Commissioner Rob Manfred’s chagrin.
Wednesday Walk Up Song
Love Is Like a Baseball Game by The Intruders. Three strikes you’re out. 1968 cheeseball-o-rama.